Monday, April 25, 2011

Inventing God

The very notion of a male god is a very recent innovation. Prior to the invention of writing, agriculture, animal husbandry, and militarized (genocidal) states, the very idea or concept of a god being male was quite literally inconceivable.

Because the importance and function of a divine being was to produce and cultivate life and to "bring forth" the universe or the world, it went without saying that, naturally, this deity would be female, in that a female deity would "give birth" to the phenomenal world we see around us. It was preposterous to the human imagination that a male deity would "give birth" to anything-- let alone the cosmos! This means that there was always a Creatrix, but only recently was it possible to conceive of a Creator (as a metaphorical extension of "builders" crafts and monument-ism).

This explains why "gods" are so recent chronologically, being predated most often by numerous goddesses the world over. Human societies for most of human history worshipped either animals, spirits of nature, and once divine beings come into the picture, goddesses. Most of humanity lived this way, with male gods showing up on the scene very recently. Yet, though such deities are undeniably the youngest, they ironically often set themselves up, or are conceived of as "eternal", "all-powerful", "universal", or "singular and true" sky gods, above and beyond all lesser such divine beings. So it's important to understand that although male gods are factually the youngest dieties in human imagination, they arise in contexts of power that need for them to be what they are not: eternal, the oldest dieties around, omnipotent, because this is the all-encompasing (often termed "universal") nature of the imagination that created them (specifically: in relations to State Power).

So, with the advent, as stated, with militarized states that engaged in ritual genocide do we see male gods, who first, marry more important or more ancient goddesses, then later, these new gods often even just kill off the older goddesses in gory and brutal myth-stories. This development of new mythologies mirrored historical changes in the means of production in human societies from those that privileged "female capacities" to those that privileged male "muscle power". (Specifically: moving from a hunter-gatherer society to settled agricultural ones starting at around 10,000 BCE).

So, for example, at the dawn of the rise of "noble" families we begin to see the beginnings of "kings," who were usually the brother(s) of the queen, whom he would then marry to legitimate his "kingship" and finally be able to receive inheritances of wealth and power, which before had always passed from mother to daughter (all societies were MATRILINEAL at this time). This practice of marrying one's sister in wealthy families precedes the later concept of social taboos such as incest, of which I know of no evidence that there existed any such taboo at this time, but did represent the most common and typical way nascent "kingships" came to usurp the previous "matriarchies". Later, the kings take over human societies outright. Then we have the beginnings of "writing" and the invention of "history."

"History" as far as I know only and always is related to, arise out of, and is connected to States and is a form of Power. At least one reason for this is that States need to create an "us-and-them" mentality with their neighbors, an inherently difficult task considering an enemy is still just as human as they. So States must create an identity. Once this identity is established, then an "other" can be constructed which will be UNlike the constructed "us" in important ways (such as "they" eat babies). It is important to note here that throughout (recorded) history facts rarely play any particularly important role in human reasoning, but nearly every type of insanity and lie has consistently been terrifyingly effective at motivating nearly all members of any sort of group to engage in the most horrific sorts of all manner of unspeakable violence. This pattern of human behavior is so common as to be nearly predictable and even expected. Typically this process entails labeling these "others" as "barbarians" or other such denigrating titles. So long as any group or neighbor can become an "other" the battle is all but won, since all that's left to do is the fun, "pro-active" stuff such as annihilating them, stealing everything, incorporating/ co-opting whatever you please, and settling the area where they once lived.

It's difficult to see how goddesses could condone such behavior (the beings that give life even in the midst of the ultimate sacrifice of death), but every god I've ever known or heard of not only loves such practices, but typically models, commands, and receives as worship such deeds. Consider for example the Hebrew term "Shabbat" often translated as "to utterly destroy". This was God's command to commit such a complete genocide that even the heathen's technology of animal husbandry was to be completely annihilated. This made God smile, or at least grin. For this reason Noam Chomsky, whose father was a scholar of Hebrew, considers the Old Testament "one of the most genocidal books ever written."

A psychological diagnosis of the behavior of gods in our mythological systems would be interesting, appropriate, even crucial, such as the textbook narcissism of YHWH of the Old Testament described as a "jealous god" that demanded the "holy" and "sacred" sacrifice of entire peoples.

Monotheism is yet a more powerful and extremist a development than just the initial introduction of psychopathic gods into a pantheon, such as Zeus, the habitual rapist, murderer, and raging narcissist. Such personality traits seem critical to the development, establishment, maintenance, and success of States. This leads to the seemingly contradictory development of "laws" to prevent the behavior that is made possible by the increased anonymity of complex societies, indeed complex societies may help cultivate the conditions which not only give rise to such behavior but allow them to thrive. (We can just chalk such an analysis as an example of a "postmodern" contradiction).

A good example of this development is the law of Karma. As cities began to develop in the 6th Century BCE in the plains of Northern India, behaviors such as rape, theft, and murder (once kept in check in small village or tribal societies, which not only lacked the requisite anonymity to "get away" with such behavior, but which probably also lacked the requisite amounts of alienation to produce such extreme pathologies), began to see such atrocious practices. As a result a new "law" or "ethical imagination" developed, that if you do someone dirty, then either in this life (but mostly understood to be "paid" in the next incarnation), such things will just come right back to you. Victimizer will become the victimized in ever increasing cycles of misery and violence.

One of the important symbols of the goddess is the snake (or serpent in the Old Testament). The snake was one of the most important religious symbols because it represented the cycles of life: birth, death, and renewel, as seen every time it sheds its old skin (and dies) which then gives birth to a new life (the new, bright, larger snake). Women (and therefore goddesses) also often displayed this important pedagogical symbol as women commonly died in childbirth, or the menstrual cycles (the bleeding, "dying", and renewel all of which life-giving) also "taught" us this life lesson. For this reason, the demonization of snakes is critical if your new god is to usurp the important religious imaginations of the goddess-dominated worlds. This is why snakes appear in the oldest "layers" of many religions, such as village deities in Hindu "Untouchable" castes or the Nagas of Buddhism.

Given this is such an enormous topic, I will leave you with just this taste and will continue to elaborate on this (pre-)history of gods and goddesses.

1 comment:

  1. Do you mind listing some of your sources? Sounds like some interesting reading. I have heard these stories of the developments of polytheism to monotheism, female to male, but I've never heard someone try to integrate this history with the modern church. I ask because this history seems to paint a pretty negative picture of the monotheist and male dominated religions of our time. Do church's these days recognize this history? And if they do, how do they explain it within the context of their church?