Part Two: The violent origins of man-made religion
Scientists tell us that the exact point when humans became “religious” is unknown, but traces back to sometime in the Paleolithic era between 45,000 to 200,000 years ago, with the earliest evidence being ritualistic burying of the dead. Such practices represent “an awareness of life and death and a possible belief in the afterlife.” Evidence for belief in a supernatural being or beings can be traced back to the Upper Paleolithic Era when anthropomorphic images began appearing on cave paintings and personal items as far back as 50,000 years ago. It seems that from the beginning humans have always portrayed “God” in their own image.
The enigmatic complex known as Gobekli Tepe in southern Turkey, dating back to 10,000 BCE, is recognized as the oldest religious structure known to man. It includes a number of T-shaped pillars representing human-like figures that are decorated with carved images of various animals. This is roughly the area from which the domestication of grain emerged, kickstarting the Neolithic Revolution. This led to the domestication of animals, the invention of pottery, beer, the establishment of villages and cities, laws and citizenship, land as property, taxes, accounting practices involving money and debt, slavery, standing armies, ruling monarchies and dynasties, and eventually writing. The Neolithic Revolution was perhaps the greatest transition in human life in all of our history, and somewhere during this time humans began to believe in all-powerful supernatural beings, or “gods” in the modern religious sense.
It is interesting that this region in northern Mesopotamia is referred to in ancient Sumerian myth as an important place of origin for both humanity and the “gods,” and is also very close to the site of ancient Ur of the Chaldees (modern Urfa), from which Abraham emerged sometime prior to 2000 BCE.
From the beginning our conceptions of God have been shaped by the stories that we have told each other. Yes, these stories include testimony of supernatural encounters with gods, angels, and demons, dreams, miracles, visions and audible voices, but the supernatural element has always been secondary to the practical element of human power. The gods were always an integral part of human control-systems, supporting the ruling class until those being oppressed were able to overthrow it with the superior numbers of the oppressed and angry mob that has nothing left to lose.
With the invention of writing around 3000 BCE this religious control system was able to exercise even more power. From the beginning religion and law were seamlessly connected in the sacred texts. The earliest records of ancient Sumer look to their gods as the ultimate lawgivers and punishers, and the kings, priests and soldiers exercising their powers with violence were just being “obedient to the gods.”
One of the central practices of polytheistic religion that has been observed in all of human culture – from the Inuit above the North Pole to the Aborigines of Australia – is the practice of sacrifice. It is essentially the working out of the simple idea that…
In order to maintain peace in our community…
something has to die.
Just think about this for a second. This is an incredible and shocking belief that once underpinned ALL OF HUMAN SOCIETY! It was a belief that every human being just naturally accepted as being part of the normal course of human affairs. Peace is obtained only through violence. It is violence that keeps us safe. And this violence was looked upon approvingly by the all-powerful gods. This is superstition at its very worst, but thankfully these ideas that were once universal in their power over humanity are now seen for what they are: primitive superstition.
The understanding that violence is at the very heart of human culture, politics, and religion was highlighted by anthropologist Rene Girard throughout his work from 1961 until his death in 2015. Girard took a big-picture view of human history and he charted a trajectory of human progress from our primitive superstitious violent origins to the world of today when sacrifice has been eliminated and violence is recognized as a problem, or at least the last resort to a problem, rather than a first solution or divine commandment that brings order to the community.
For Girard, man-made religion begins with violence. Specifically murder. The killing of a human (whether villain or victim) brought peace to the early paleolithic community. Human sacrifice was the primordial and archetypal sacrifice, and only later was the object of violence transferred onto animals as a way of re-enacting the original murder and somehow appeasing the gods that had allowed the chaos to appear. The progression passed from murder to the rituals of animal sacrifice to a system of community prohibitions (laws) that sought to keep the original source of chaos – which was simply human conflict – at bay.
On top of all of this, which was a long process going back perhaps hundreds of thousands of years, everything was tied together through myth. Stories were told and retold in caves and around campfires about the necessary violence that brought peace to the community. Truth and exaggeration were mixed into these original myths and the stories shifted and changed and took on a power and life of their own. The community became signified by the hero, and the hero was portrayed as being empowered by the tribal god, or transformed into a god himself, or sometimes the victim was portrayed as the benevolent god who delivered peace after his death. Whatever the case, these stories became ingrained in the communities that told them and became part of their very identities.
For Girard, man-made religion was built on the structure of:
This system was at its greatest power in the Ancient Near East for around three thousand years, starting around 3000 BCE with the invention of writing. Sacred texts allowed the system to increase but at the same time writing allowed for the appearance of competing narratives. For Girard the system was all a great deception. Religion was being used by the elites to control and oppress the masses while the mythic narrative of redemptive divinely-approved violence was actually obscuring the truth from humanity.
It was all a great deception, a towering man-made structure founded on lies waiting for a brave new narrative to appear. But who would dare to challenge with a new story?
August 24, 2018
6 thoughts on “What Is God Like? Part Two”
Reblogged this on James' Ramblings and commented:
Reblogging for future reference:
So, along with dominionist “kingdom now” theology, are we trotting along to the rejection of the sacrifice of Christ for our sins? I think so. All of your “universal” salvation posts, your elevation of God’s love as His chief attribute (without biblical or hermeneutical support i might add) to the exclusion of all others (especially his righteousness and wrathful response to unforgiven sin) are just signposts along the way on your journey (ironically) of remaking God in your own image, subject to what your finite and sinful mind finds acceptable. You know, Peter, the wonderfully effective thing about deception is that those deceived don’t even know they are. That’s why i will always give highest place to biblical revelation. Poor interpretive skills, along with disrespect for God’s specific revelation, even if mixed with lots of sincerity and emotive pleading, will only result in a lack of truth, and perhaps even damnation.
Here is a revelation for you: you and your new apostles are not going to conquer the earth for Christ, which i assume will alert Him that then would be an appropriate time for Him to return. Your elimination of biblical teaching about eternal damnation will only seduce those who already incline themselves towards rejection of His teachings, and His provision for eternal salvation. Your attempt to identify the beliefs of the unsaved (or pagans) of the ancient near east as determining the belief system of the people of Israel in the OT and the church in the NT, and thus justifying the sinful human tendency to exalt our concepts above those of God Himself is overplayed and vacuous. John Walton et.al. have certainly milked this teat dry, and more often than not in order to “modernize” the bible for today. I can only pray for you. Your teachings, however sincere and well-intended, will only result in your condemnation.
No doubt the church today is quite imperfect (as would any body of sinful people be), and it’s track record uneven. But it is the body of Christ, and in attacking it (i should say mostly the evangelical white portion) you attack Christ Himself. Occasional, even handed exhortations are always encouraged, when delivered in humility and love. I do not discern these things in your postings. There is a prejudiced and exclusive nature to them, while at the same time purposefully obscuring the real reasons and beliefs that underlie them. Why you think this is at all helpful eludes me (which includes the absence of any real solutions or suggestions). They read more like postings with hidden agendas. Otherwise they would be more balanced and helpful. Often i have exhorted, even rebuked you for this attitude, but with no results (the onus is not on me, but you). I will continue to pray for you, and trust that God, if it serves His purposes, will rescue you. I certainly don’t expect my responses to you to result in some 180 degree turn. I mean, seriously, have you ever seen someone do so on a blog site? How seldom it is even in real life, face-to-face situations. Still, all things are possible with Christ. When will you do better, Peter?
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Reblogged this on Michael Basham's Mother Ship.
This comment is in reply to Chuck’s comment, posted August 29, 2018 at 8:25 pm.
Interesting that the Accuser of the Brethren takes the same tone throughout Scripture as you have in your reply to this blog post. Accusatory: “Often i have exhorted, even rebuked you for this attitude, but with no results (the onus is not on me, but you). Self-righteous and patronizing: “I can only pray for you . . . I will continue to pray for you, and trust that God, if it serves His purposes, will rescue you.”
I don’t know Peter; I’ve only just stumbled on a few blog posts of his. But to be perfectly honest, replies like yours actually give posts like Peter’s more credibility to random wayfarers wandering by, like me. Suddenly, I’m more interested, wondering: what is this poster so afraid of to leave this kind of reply? Usually when I see individuals who profess to be Christian, or assert to be theologically knowledgable (many of them atheists and anti-theists in my experience), weaponizing prayer in such a way, I immediately recognize the “spirit” behind the voice. I’ve been in way too many court rooms as a survivor of decades-long, on-going domestic violence by a man who was high-level military and into Intellectual Occultism before he was court-martialed, not to recognize the Voice of The Accuser. The Book of Job is very clear about Ha-Satan’s function as the first lawyer (or lawyer’s lawyer), accusing the brethren night and day before the Court of the Most High God. Also, the function of the occult is to lobotomize the Body of Christ from the inside-out; divide us from within; which is what your reply seeks to do.
Who cares about the doctrines or religions of men? Care about getting right with Christ, the Word made flesh, the living Truth.
For the benefit of other wayfarers passing by this blog post, the One who is in me reminds them that He is greater than the one who is in the world, and says: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world’s darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms,” Ephesians 6:12.
For Peter: Keep going. Expose, expose. Textbook abusers fear exposure. They are the most violent when faced with exposure. And I’ve personally found this to be true of “the powers of this world’s darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” warring against us–right in our own court rooms. The Spirit of the Antichrist is in our very system (The “IN GOD WE TRUST” sitting in place of the God of Creation, dictating the laws of man). And that spirit gets torqued-off when God’s people “see” (or in my case, completely, by accident, stumble upon) the proverbial man behind the curtain and want to witness to our experiences. Just remember:
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline,” 2 Timothy 1:7.
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell,” Matthew 10:28.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love,” 1 John 4:18.
Well historian, let’s review. You don’t know Peter very well, read a couple of posts maybe. You certainly don’t know me at all, and yet what insight you seem to have. Perhaps if you’ve read the many dozens of my responses to Peter’s posts, you might actually understand. You know what happens when you ASSUME. I bet you do. To divine so much from so much ignorance stretched you a bit i think. Yes, by all means Peter, as long as it’s “new” and condemnatory of the evangelical christianity, please please continue to berate and condemn. Your new friend here seems to come from the same disillusioned camp that you do. By all means, continue to feed the fawning sheeple. I gag at the constant cramming of “love” down the throats of those who actually can discern error because it seems mean or judgemental. I would suggest Historian, if you have a bible, hopefully a red letter edition, that you peruse the words of Christ again. He did not refrain from boldly confronting those who promulgated error, hardly using a soft touch. You obviously are ignorant of the many teachings (even heresies) of you hero the Doctor. Do some research before you jump in the pool with the alligator. Or don’t. I see you don’t care about “doctrine”, it’s just all about love. This tepid teaching is the incubator for all sorts of inclusiveness that treats the doctrine of Christ as just another religious view, the important thing is to be “christed” with love and acceptance. Courtrooms, lawyers, banal plablum used to picture yourself a somehow more spiritual, love. Arrogance. The same thing you accuse me of. Judgement. The same thing you accuse me of. Check you own eyes before you perform surgery on another. And get to know the topic thoroughly before waxing philosophical.
Oh I forgot. If condeming error or confronting false teaching makes me arrogant or judgemental, then i stand proudly beside Paul, Peter, John, Jude, and Jesus Christ. Now my confronting people or warning them is actually what love would do. and as the doctor and I have been trading posts for years now, I know that HE knows where i am coming from. His kingdom now theology and emerging church viewpoints cause far more damage than my scolding him for them. I know he is intelligent and articulate, and far from thinking myself superior, I actually believe that if I can figure out the error, so can he. Of course, the effective thing about deception is that the deceived don’t realize that they are, and because of human sin and pride, it isn’t possible, aside from God being gracious to life the blinders, to change their minds. I do what i do because of Ezekiel 33. If i don’t warn, then their blood is on my head. If i do, it’s on theirs. I would love nothing better than for Peter to right his ship, so to speak. Christ Himself said He came to divide relationships of all kinds. And for your information, it was Paul who said that Scripture, among other things, was profitable for doctrine, and also that in latter times, people would walk away from truth for lies, and eschew scriptural truth for doctrines of demons. Are these the doctrines you don’t care about. How does one “get right with Christ” without knowing the truth that he spoke, without believing what He said? Do you think He would sacrifice truth for this overly emotive love that everyone talks about as if it were a cover for ignoring portions of Scripture? You could do no greater favor for someone than to warn them when they are about to, or already are, headed towards dangerous beliefs. Ignore doctrines? Ignore other religious beliefs, even when they are infiltrating the body of Christ, more often than not by those promulgating inclusive heresy under the guise of love? I think not. If you care about Peter, then tell him where he is in error. This might mean some work for you. Do it yourself if you really care. If not, than all that tripe about love is nothing but vapor and mist. Now you see it, now you don’t.