A SURPRISING JOURNEY BACK TO THE PATH OF SPIRITUALITY
A Proposition of Spiritual-Religious Comprehension
By: J. Marlando
IN THE BEGINNING
I believe it is safe to say that there are a lot of people who are going through their lives not only seeking spiritual attachment but spiritual assurances. Indeed, ever notice how a lot of conversations begin when people refer to something spiritual or mystic, “Well, if there really is a God…”
With the above in mind up until the 1950s church was a part of the American life; not only intrinsic to private life but was a connecting factor webbing the entire culture together. Since the 50s, however, church attendance has been declining and the decline has been even more dramatic in Europe. Also according to the geneticist, *Dr. Dean Hamer, in England and Holland, only 5% of the population attends church services…regularly. On the other hand Christian, Jewish and Muslim fundamentalism is growing. There is probably a good reason for this.
Ordinary church services, by and large, preach at the parishioners condemning them for their humanism and imperfections. For example, there is still the idea that sex and sin are synonymous in the eyes of the Lord. This “idea” is not as old as “the Lord,” however, since it did not exist until the 4th century A.D., when the Roman Church requested their most influential intellectual to interpret Genesis for them. Augustine, who is well known for praying to God to give him chastity…but not yet, decided that Adam and Eve discovered sexual lust which caused them to recognize their genitals, and begin wearing fig leaves to hide them. It was too late, however, because God shames them and sends them out of the garden for disobeying him and more, he condemns the entire human species to being born in (original) sin. What is most important to remember about this “Augustinian concept” is that Eve is blamed for the entire ordeal including tempting a rather naïve and stupid Adam to become “lustful” too.
While it is nearly impossible for any thinking person to imagine an all-knowing God cursing an entire species for the sinfulness of two people, this was part of the Augustine interpretation adopted by the Catholic Church (Catholic means “universal) and later by Protestantism. The basic conflict between Martin Luther and the Catholics was not openly defiance against priests being obligated to stay chase but to denounce the Church for selling indulgences. Before the reformation forgiveness of sins cost money—fees were paid to the priests from the ancient fear of going to burning hell. And, if a “sinner” didn’t have cash, he would be obliged to do labor for the forgiveness of his transgressions. Later when the break was assured both the founders of protectionism—Luther and Calvin—permitted the clergy to wed. Sex, however, for anything other than procreation remained a taboo and continue to have the threat of hell attached to it. The absurd and cruel Puritans of our own country were products of all this.
The difficulty with both Catholicism and Protestantism is that the Church represents itself as the messenger between God and the congregation. In other words, the way to heaven is not through the human heart but rather through the church doors. This pomposity can be traced back to the earliest civilization going back some 10,000 to 15,000 years when the old god/kings claimed to be in direct communication with God. The citizen was told that as long as they were obedient to and fought bravely for the city/state God had said that he would reward them but, lo and behold, if they didn’t, God would punish them with unimaginable suffering. The demagoguery has never gone away, and only the verbiage has changed. This, no doubt, is also included in the reasons people are wavering in their church attendance; the church most basically keeps the parishioners too far from experiencing God for themselves.
The Church also has historically been bias against women (remember the St. Augustine interpretation of Genesis). This prejudice had been passed down even before the time of Jesus some 400 years before Augustine, coming down from the Greek and Jewish traditions that women were more or less necessary evils and therefore subordinated both at home and in those societies. Indeed, early religious sects such as **Gnosticism and Manichaeism believed that women were wholly evil and men were evil from the waist down. This was another reason, it seems, that Jesus became known as a rebel. He adored and respected women and included them in his followers. This was socially taboo during his times.
What the church did do, however, was to create women spiritually equal while they were second rated in social value. The Protestants followed the same rule of thumb. Women were respected spiritually but subordinated by male rule. Indeed, it wasn’t until 1975, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, that a woman was ordained into the ministry. Judaism was faster to accept women than this. The first woman to become a Rabbi did so at Berlin, Germany in 1930.
Only the Muslims maintain the view that women are secondary. To this day they remain under the dictates of their fathers and husbands and are subordinated in their Islamic communities.
All this brings us to the start of our journey toward spirituality.
THE FIRST CORNERSTONE OF RELIGION
No historian can say when the very first organized religion began but many guess it was in the ancient Sumerian society when the earliest temples were erected. We’ll travel to Sumer a little later, however, for now we’ll go into the wildernesses of pre-history.
A legitimate question is when did the “idea” of a god and/or goddess enter into the human reality?
We can safely assume that as all indigenous peoples including the earliest hominid walking upright had a thought or at least some vague realization of the spiritual; something other than a flesh and bone materialism. Thoughts that include a spiritual reality are typically considered too subjective for the earliest human-like-creatures to possess. And this is especially true before organized language emerged; when grunts, groans, facial expressions and hand signals did the communicating. What most scientists neglect to recognize, however, is that while thinking and language are entwined, there is yet another and perhaps even more important factor to experience. That is, how we feel about a thing. We can only guess that the most ancient people “felt” a connectedness to nature; a kind of spiritual merging with the trees, plants, animals, rivers, and the starry sky above. And this suggests a “faith” in the unseen!
But faith in something that cannot be seen or touched or tasted is a highly abstract form of conceptualizing; an almost impossible feat for a living creature who has not yet conceived of the wheel or made a tool; whose weapons are rocks and tree limbs and whose lives are spent millenniums before we “naked apes” emerge as Homo sapiens. Indeed, Java man who made stone tools didn’t appear until around 700,000 years ago and Peking man, who preceded modern man and even Neanderthals, existing some 500,000 years ago and nearly that long before Cro-Magnon, our direct ancestors, evolved. Yet, Archeology, Anthropology and Ethnology (The study of cultures and ethnic groups) mostly agree that there has just about always been some form of belief in magic and mysticism.
Dean Hamer, mentioned earlier, tells us that we are born with a “God gene,” and thus we are basically wired to have faith or belief in a “Great Spirit” (call it God) and transcendence into the “religious experience.” While the process of his research and findings are far too complex to go into here we can say that the root gene is named VMAT2; that which gives the experience of moving from loving nature to loving God in nature and for so-called civilized man, loving God as an entity outside (or above) nature. Nevertheless, what can accompany the experience of faith is a personal realization of being one with everything else which is mysticism opposed to organized religiosity.
What is important to note is that faith in the spiritual is natural to us, we are genetically directed to…well, believe.
I should note here that to some geneticists (and other scholars) this hypothesis grounds religious and spiritual beliefs as mere phenomena of brain-works; further proof that we are nothing other than robotic gene machines but to me—and many others—the idea of a God gene substantiates faith in the spiritual as it gives us a direct connectedness to it; it permits us to “feel” the experience as opposed to merely think or imagine it.
The major point here, however, (while we cannot know for sure) is that spiritual connectedness may well permeate all living things, which of course is a belief belonging to fundamental spirituality that states, God in All and All in God.
We will take a big leap here and land in the hunting/gathering societies established by our pre-historic ancestors, the immediate cousins to modern man. Those sometimes referred to as “Cave Dwellers,” probably emerging into actual societies around 30,000 years ago. This was a time when cave painting evolved as a form of mysticism. It is said by certain scholars, however, that cave painting was nothing other than a form of sympathetic magic, ancient superstition of the primitive mind believing that the drawing of animals on cave walls would somehow augment the safety and success of the hunt. I am not alone when I disagree with this assessment: This was probably the time when organized ritual began taking place in terms of ceremony. Footprints found deep in some of those caves indicate dancing as part of the function of spiritual transcendence as the goal. And, it can also be speculated that the cave paintings may be symbolized altered state experiences of the “shaman(s)” doing the painting to share their experiences.
A lot of professionals, including archeologists, believe that shamanism (holy men and women, healers, and so forth) didn’t occur until sophisticated societies emerged such as the Mayan but ritual is almost exclusively led by a leader.
Shamans were chosen in all sorts of ways across the world but when a Native American “felt” the calling to become a shaman (medicine man) he went alone into the forest or some other place of stark isolationism to seek his vision quest. All he carried with him were the instructions given him by an experienced shaman of the tribe. All this could be debated for a lifetime but what is important here is to comprehend that, most probably, cave art was a representation of spiritual experience as opposed to being an act of magic-making which has been historically believed.
We needn’t go into any of this any further except to say that cave rituals were probably the seeds of futuristic religious gatherings and even church or temple attendance at the advent of civilization.
So what does all this have to do with our belief in God?
We will have to take that step backward in order to move forward on this topic.
THE MOVE FROM NATURE INTO DEITY
Going back into prehistoric time/mind, from the beginning no one knew how women became impregnated and so they were thought to possess great magic, including the magic of bleeding without dying. As a result they were looked at with awe. I remember reading somewhere that one concept among the very primitive was that women became pregnant by sitting too close to a campfire. This makes sense because fire itself was quite magical in prehistoric times (And remains so in some mid-eastern cultures). The most mysterious and awesome observation, however, was that it was the female who delivered new life into the world. A feat impossible for males even though some males actually cut into their penises to make themselves bleed hoping to capture some of the female magic.
In any case during the Paleolithic period, a carved stone statuette appeared across Europe—the figurines were of a woman looking pregnant with swollen breasts and buttocks, who was later named Venus.
There have been all kinds of speculations about this statue from accusing it to being prehistoric porn to praising it as representing the matriarchal clan mother of the earliest societies. Then, a few thousand years later (around 9000 years ago) the Neolithic, agricultural communities began to emerge and a great deal of art began to appear in the form of animals and statuettes of the supreme deity…the Mother Goddess.
Yes, that’s right the first image of a living Supreme Being was a woman.
During this time actual communities emerged with plastered brick houses with ovens and chimneys—many with shrines devoted to the mother goddess. The building blocks of civilization were already being laid with women as its gatekeeper. And, by this prehistoric time, ritualistic burials had become part of the cultures. Ancient graves, for example, have been found in Czechoslovakia where a woman was buried with tools and strewn with red ochre. She was prepared to cross over into the “other” world and the red ochre was prestigious. Nearly all women were buried with ochre scattered across their bodies but few men were honored with it. The more important point, however, is that those ancient people conceived a hereafter but from archeological finds this, in itself, was nothing new, even the most ancient prehistoric beings had mysterious rituals and often burials. Could it be that the “God” gene opened the ancient mind to the aspects of life everlasting?
Space for this article doesn’t permit us to go much further into the prehistoric and historic goddess worship but at the end of this narrative we will recommend the best books on the topics we’ve merely touched upon here. In any case, agricultural life in the goddess worshipping communities of the Near and Middle East was striving. By this time goddess worshipping religions had been practiced for thousands of years. But then, in the North there were Aryan types—white, bold warriors—who had long before—perhaps even thousands of years before, adopted a male deity and by around the year 2500 B.C. the Northerners began moving south into the agricultural lands.
The wave of Indo-Europeans not only came in massive numbers but on horse-drawn war chariot; advanced war machines at the time. The northern tribes entered Iran pompously and with powerful arrogance and from there continued into Mesopotamia and Canaan. These warring maneuvers continued perhaps for as long as two or three thousand years and eventually the goddess worshipping people were oppressed, their temples destroyed and from the ashes the male deity arose as the supreme ruler and overlord of the land. Probably in order to keep the people content, the goddess was given the position of wife to these gods but nevertheless always subordinated by their maleness.
By this time the original spiritualism had fallen in the wake of organizing religion.
CIVILIZATION and THE MALE DEITY
While all the above was going on the Sumerians were on their march unfolding into what most scholars call the first civilization. They were first to build temples to their gods, create a voting system for their kings and an economic system for their communities principally under the control of the high priests and priestesses. The system was so sophisticated it bordered on being a kind of pseudo democracy as the god/king was elected for only a year and regularly replaced by a voting system. Eventually this changed, however, because the constancy of wars demanded a strong leadership remain on the throne for much longer than 12 months.
The basic stories and myths of the ancient Sumerians offer a very different creation story. ***C. Leonard Woolley gives us the words from a Sumerian hymn: Mankind when created did not know of bread for eating or garments for wearing. The people walked about with limbs on the ground, they ate herbs with their mouths like sheep, they drank ditch-water…It is agreed by some scholars that when the Sumerian tribes began moving into lower Mesopotamia the odd-human/animal types probably did occupy those lands. There is also the ancient Sumerian belief (that we will mention but not go into) that says the human race was started by gods and goddesses—both good and bad—coming down to earth from the planet Nibiru and were the ones to give the Sumerians their training in language, architecture and religion. In any case, the history seems vague in terms of knowing if the Sumerians were part of the bold, warring aggressors that had come down from the north or not. What is known is that their temples were even more powerful and important than was the palace—the temples were not only a place of rituals but were the city/states economic center as well.
All this is important here because Abraham was a Sumerian, born in the city of UR and it is said to wealthy parents, probably being fathered by a powerful temple priest.
Abraham is known to be the first monotheist in the world and this is why he is often also called the first Jew although there are those who would argue this observation.
The basic Biblical story tells us that Abraham was commanded by God, himself, to take his son to Mount Moriah and offer him up as a sacrifice. This is known as Abraham’s test of faith. So Abraham takes his son, whom he loves intensely and walks him to the place of sacrifice. His son asks him, Father where is the lamb to be sacrificed? And Abraham answers, God will provide the lamb. Afterwards Abraham lays his son on the sacrificial alter preparing to kill him. He lifts his knife ready to plunge it into his sons heart when God stops him saying, Abraham stop, do not hurt your son. You have proven your faith and shown how much you love me…Some time later God instructs Abraham to circumcise himself and all the male members of his household and orders that every male will be circumcised by the age of eight. This rather strange request is said to be God’s way of leaving a reminder of himself in “all” acts of creation. And, indeed, it is circumcision that earns Abram his new name. God says, you will no longer be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I make you the father of a multitude of nations.
We needn’t dwell on the apparentcy of these meaningful myths—the story of Abraham taking his son Isaac to the sacrificing table is a metaphor for God’s demands of absolute obedience and devotion.
The modern irony to the above story is that the 3-big religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all claim that their heritages go back to Abraham. We all know that the result of this “kinship” has resulted in the most vicious and bloodiest battles, human torture and countless deaths of all our human history. But then again the God of Abraham is a warrior god as especially the Old Testament attests. It was not until the time of Jesus that the loving father image of God emerged and later substantiated by the Gospel writers.
Most everyone is aware of this history and the events that followed into our own ultramodern times; the Computer Age.
Another reason that church attendance is down is the lack of love actually practiced by especially a great many Christians who instead show prejudice, hatefulness and intolerance toward those who are not them. The Crusades were a savage battle ground between Christians and Muslims lasting between 1096 and 1217; a time of murder and human torture. All this unnecessary bloodshed was followed by more—the inquisition began in the 12th century in the cause of killing heretics but what was the real motive? Profit, the more people accused of heresy and arrested the more land and other property that the church confiscated—during those times there were actually goals set as to how many heretics should be burned and how much property was to be taken.
We need not discuss the fundamental Muslims of today who actually believe that harming others gain rewards in God’s Heaven but there has been even more ludicrousness than this when it comes to creating god into man’s image, which is much of what we’re talking about in any case. Once in old Babylon God was said to have both bookkeepers and concubines in his Heaven but we are not too far removed from that in our own times as we make up the rules and social mores and connect them directly to the will of God. God in fact has been used as a powerful tool for keeping social order since…well, the days of those early Sumerians.
Anyway, it wasn’t actually until around Jesus’s time that the last of the old goddess temples were destroyed or changed into male deity places of exchange and worship. And what was the cause behind this transition from female to male worship? The renowned scholar and historian, ****Riane Eisler suggests that sometime during the transition between prehistoric and historic times, the importance of the male contribution to procreation was discovered; indeed, it was learned that it was he who impregnated the female and therefore he saw himself as the source of life. Women thereafter, if you will, lost their magic. As a result their fall from grace began to occur as male domination began to rise. And, having risen long before the Golden Years of Athens, women in so-called civilization had been second rated as citizens and in some cultures as human beings. This has only been changing since the 1900s but sexism has not completely gone away even in our new millennium.
So what happened to faith and feeling?
GOD, RELIGION and SPIRITUALITY IN OUR TIMES
In general most Western people were content with their religions up until the 1600’s. While they believed in one God as maker of heaven and earth, they also leaned toward the old Pagan beliefs that God is in all things; the He permeates nature as spirit. And indeed, surprising to a great many Christians, this was probably Jesus’s view (and so teachings) as well.
We get a hint of this when he says “The father and I are one.” But the real indication is found in the Gospel of Thomas. Jesus makes the following clear and precise statement: I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth and to me all attained. Split a piece of wood, I am there. Lift up a stone you will find me there.
The Jewish Kabala certainly advocates God in all things as do most Eastern religions. The ancient Chinese sage, Wang Shihuai, told us that the entire universe is all mind and all phenomena. This was certainly the view of Emerson’s Transcendentalism in the 1800s as it was David Thoreau’s view also. The thought no doubt takes us back into prehistoric times, before churches or temples or even concepts of religious organizations. Perhaps it is the message found in our hearts or perhaps the real message of the God gene?
What took this away from us, however, was the philosopher and mathematician, Rene Descartes (1596-1650), who taught us that mind (spirit) and matter (body) were separated. In other words he took God out of things and placed God in some distant place making him unknowable. He took God out of the animals, the plants, the trees, the streams; out of nature! In other words, he gave God the image of the wise old king only to be imagined sitting on his throne in some far away heaven as judge and jury of our human actions.
As a result the church proclaimed itself as being the spokesperson for God and the gateway into His kingdom—this was a returning to the ancient ways of the Sumerian god/kings who promised salvation only by following the rules. In this way, the attitudes of the old powerful temple priests were given rebirth in the clergies and priesthoods of modern day religions and especially for the Big-3!
A final thought to consider is to say that to name God is to give him (or her) an image, an image that cannot be based on anything beyond our own experiences. Thus, God becomes a reflection of our limited selves with all our values and our judgments. Look at your infant in its crib and tell me that God gave that little, innocent baby the burden of original sin. This was Augustine’s concept but people have foolishly assumed that it was Gods. And this occurs in manifold ways: There are some religions that pin the name sin on such absurdities as drinking coffee, wearing makeup and/or feeling amorous along with countless other nonsensical mores turned into morals and assumed to be God’s Will. And what if Augustine had interpreted Genesis in another way, say he understood that what Adam and Eve had done (by eating from the symbolic tree of knowledge) was to gain self-aware-consciousness. How much different our world would be today.
With this article, it has not been my intent to convince anyone of anything, only to remind the reader that it is important to know where our thoughts come from and to be cognizant that there are alternative views to ponder and consider. We all desire to have God in our lives, to have some sort of assurances that we are not destined to existential being and nothingness. God is the All, we need not now more than this; as Jesus taught, The Kingdom is upon us.
Do I believe that Jesus is the son of God? Yes, just as you and I are. It is like Joseph Chilton Perce tells us: the Creator and Created give rise to one another.
If you want to find God today look out into the world, if you want to experience God today, look inside yourself.
References and suggested reading:
Armstrong, Karen*A history of God * Knopt
Hamer, Dean * The God Gene * Doubleday
Eisler, Riane * The Chalice and the Blade * Harper & Row
Feiler, Bruce * Abraham * WM William Morrow
Grant, Robert and Freedman, David Noel * The Secret Sayings of Jesus *Barnes and Noble
Mascetti, Manuela Dunn * Goddesses * Barnes & Noble
Stone, Merlin * When God was a Woman * Barnes & Noble
Wooley, Leonard C. * The Sumerians * Barnes & Nobles