A narrative essay by - Heather Spoonheim

 

God’s stomping grounds are pretty vast these days, at least according to some theists. You see, God isn’t limited by time, dimensions or measure but actually transcends space-time and even the very concepts of space and time. He is not only everywhere at all times, he is in fact the very essence of where and when and a whole lot more – more than any of us, including Ed Whitten, could ever imagine. That’s one hell of a god!

It wasn’t always this way, though. In the beginning, God only existed as a fallacious projection of human consciousness. More specifically, just as modern man still begs a traffic light to change, primitive man begged fire to start. It is this very compulsion to anthropomorphize that which we wish to control that gave rise to the mythological consciousness of fire; other elements important to primitive man would most likely have been equally imbued with a projected consciousness, the earliest evidence of this being the cult of the bear.

Although it’s easy to imagine how man first projected his concept of mind into that which possessed no such mind, evidence of how this process evolved has been virtually obliterated by the ages. The problem is that although archaeology is very good at showing us what people left behind, in the absence of a social context to frame such relics, any attempt to use those artifacts to interpret ancient beliefs amounts only to conjecture. Fortunately, anthropology has provided us with a wealth of social contexts that may very well frame some of these ancient relics.

The oldest evidence remaining of the ritualistic practices of man are graves. Although ancient graves reflect how significant death was to primitive man, this is more easily interpreted as reflecting the development of his concept of mind rather than any beliefs regarding an afterlife. For example, chimpanzees have a concept of mind that might be comparable to early Stone Age man, and they have a great deal of difficulty accepting the death of a loved one, showing great concern for the corpse.

Although there is early evidence of reverence for animals, the first clear picture we get of how religion evolved comes from the Sumerians. The Sumerians just sort of pop up in the archeological record because they left behind such an incredible body of writing, and that writing is also the oldest that we have been able to decipher. Unfortunately, by the time Sumerian writing developed, the god-concept had already radically evolved.

Sumer was a veritable Godstock, with a pantheon that encompassed 3600 gods! These gods were imagined with very human minds: getting married, having children, struggling for rank, and even committing rape. Interestingly, the king of the Sumerian pantheon was Anu, the father figure in a trinity that included Enlil and Enki. Fire doesn’t seem to have figured prominently in Sumer as these three male gods ruled the sky, wind, and water, respectively. It would seem, unsurprisingly, that fire was taken for granted by that time. Notably, the Sumerians were the first to document myths of creation and a great flood.

Under the Egyptians, the god-concept coalesced with animal deities being lumped into the Egyptian pantheon alongside more anthropomorphic gods and the total number of gods being greatly reduced. For the first time, some gods were given ranks considered higher than the multitudes of natural forces. The theory of life continuing after death began with Egyptian Pharaohs, who were considered to be intermediaries between the gods and man, although the afterlife mythology eventually encompassed all Egyptians. Most significantly, the first attempt at imagining monotheism was attempted by Pharaoh Akhenaten who proposed the idea of having only one god named Aten; the concept failed miserably.

The first successful monotheistic mythology seems to have originated in the Neo-Assyrian Empire. They realized the unifying power of having an all powerful supreme god coupled with a foreign policy that was tolerant of other, localized, lesser gods. The mythology of a single, supreme god was much easier to transport to a newly conquered imperial colony than an entire pantheon. Further, the one god mythology bolstered the authority of the Assyrian King who was written into the mythology as the only mortal authority mandated by God. Tolerating the continued recognition of more localized gods as long as they were acknowledged to be lesser gods than the Assyrian God was a stroke of genius, and truly put God into the business of politicking.

The ancient Israelites can be traced back to this period and their mythology is very representative of the period and region, incorporating stories of creation and a great flood. They also seem to have been inspired by the unifying power of a one god mythology, likely due to Assyrian prominence, and began modifying their mythology to conform, the prohibition of idols being just one example. By the reign of the Judean King, Hezekiah, and through his religious reforms, the Judean religion evolved into a full fledged monotheism.

The Judean mythology still contains vestigial references of polytheism, including references to the wife and sons of their singular, all powerful God. Their doctrines were considered exclusive to their descendants, but Christianity still managed to hijack them by simply extending the Judean mythology with the Jesus mythology. Ironically, the Jesus mythology maintained the claim of monotheism while at the same time re-instating the powerful trinity of Sumerian mythology.

The historicity of Jesus is extremely difficult to verify because his initial cult consisted of lay people rather than their leaders, and his mythology was rapidly scavenged together from the most popular elements of mythologies of the day. At the core was the concept of a single, all powerful God. The most important element was the concept that this God had actually incarnated as a contemporary man in order to refute all other mythologies and establish a ‘true’ mythology. The story of this man spread rapidly, being embellished by all the hallmarks of great legend known at the time: his birth was miraculous and occurred under a fateful star at an important time of year; he had great wisdom and worked wonders; he had twelve disciples; he died and then returned to life after three days.

The most popular, and novel, element of this mythology was that its supreme God literally expressed himself through common men by imbuing people with his spirit. Ironically, this last element marked a full cycle in the evolution of God; the god-concept began with man projecting a human consciousness into that which was without one, and evolved until that projected consciousness actually projected itself back into man!

The Muslim mythology is literally a just rewrite of Christianity, claiming that human authors had muddled the story and so Mohammed was told by God to set the story straight. It’s less than creative but, by extension, it contains all the same powerful elements of Christianity.

And so it came to pass, purely through man’s desire to persuade things that cannot be persuaded, that imagination multiplied imagination to produce the concept of a singular, all powerful, supreme God that reigned over everything. Not only had man projected an everlasting consciousness big enough to embody totality, but along the way he tacked on the idea that his own consciousness would never end.

The initial god-concept had certainly grown into one hell of a supreme God. He was mankind’s universal go-to guy when it came to feeling empowered over that which could not be understood and, with so little being understood, mankind turned to God for everything. What a monopoly!

Views: 58

Comment by Scarlette Blues on March 24, 2011 at 11:40am
Well done Heather! I did not know about the Sumerian's flood story until now. Thanks for the information.
Comment by Walter Maki on March 24, 2011 at 11:59am
Good read I like it :)
Comment by Heather Spoonheim on March 24, 2011 at 2:44pm
Thank you. :)
Comment by Hope on March 24, 2011 at 3:19pm
Awesome post!
Comment by Walter Maki on March 24, 2011 at 3:47pm
You are what I consider a "Word Smith" Heather. Hammering out the details and information to display a wonderful product of prose. :)
Comment by Heather Spoonheim on March 24, 2011 at 4:03pm
Double thanks again.  I just wanted to make it clear that 'god' evolved, and even the Israelites started out as polytheist.  The whole concept is just a product of our collective imaginations.
Comment by idcollapse Ra on March 24, 2011 at 9:16pm
great work !!
Comment by Will Sloan on March 30, 2011 at 5:09pm
Wow, that was fantastic. So informative and well written. Great work!
Comment by Heather Spoonheim on March 30, 2011 at 5:17pm
Another double thanks. I hope to eventually develop the patience to fully document the entire evolution of the cult of Yahweh as a final argument refuting the league of Abrahamic faiths. That way, the moment any Yahweh devotee posted any drivel on any of my pages I could just paste my link and say, "Checkmate."

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