Friday, November 6, 2015

Religious Feelings

Still missing ol' George and likely always will.

But those religious feelings, they still bug me… why do we have them at all? They certainly seem to arise spontaneously from beauty, from viewing that which seems infinite or eternal; these feelings seem built into our psyche. While religion can poke and prod these feelings out of us as well, it doesn't seem accurate to assign religion as their origin.

Photo by gollor all rights reserved.

Surely there's no survival benefit to a hunter gatherer, to periodically stand in awe of the things around nem; and let some deer run off, or miss some tasty vegetable treat cause ne was spaced out watching the pretty pictures in nir's brain. Maybe the people more prone to this got into the religion business in the first place. I imagine that someone who would fugue out, babble inanities about beauty, infinite, eternal numinous things frequently would seem generally useless for fuck all else.

If they were useless for gathering food, you probably couldn't count on them for anything directly related to survival, but… I bet they could do one thing, that while not have immediate survival benefits, could still enrich the experience of their entire tribe. They could tell stories. Create a little entertainment to raise people's minds from the drudgery of hand to mouth existence. If most of them were blissed out fuckoffs, I doubt this happened for all of them, nor were all the blissed out fuckoffs who told stories necessarily religious.

A few of them, might have enough brains and time off from blissing out to realize, very interesting stories we would remember well, could actually help us in the long term if they had some bit of wisdom buried in with the wit. After all, even the rest of us non-blissed out non-fuckoffs came up with fun rhymes to help remember basic information about things. We still do that in the modern era: "do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti", or "Every Good Boy Deserves Favour".

So smart part-time blissed out fuckoffs, might have the idea to tell us important stories about ourselves with long time strategy tips about living with other people; or dealing with groups of other people.

One could tell stories about animals, since being early hunter gatherers living out directly with nature, they all knew the animals in their area. So our blissed out proto-priests told stories about foxes, cats, rabbits, lions, snakes, and other such common animals.They all have traits in common with humans, and those common traits gives a framework for basing a moral story to tell us about getting along together in groups without too much bloodletting.

Crows, for example. Crows are an especially good subject, since corvids seem very like us in many ways: curious, smart, loud, brassy, and also thieving, angry, grudge-holding. There's seven possible story topics about crows, doing things that humans do that some proto-minister of blissdom could use to tell us about ourselves.

Ever flake flint for cutting tools? Make cordage by hand? Or scrape and stretch hides for leather? Hard, time consuming, and boring work. If you want shoes and laces; clothes and rope - it's work that has to get done. How much better would that time go by if you have the shaman sitting back being survivalishly useless, tells you wondrous stories about the animals around you. Maybe those religious feelings have a useful purpose after all; one that might end up getting some otherwise useless schmucks laid.

So when did we start taking them so seriously? Or when did some of us start taking their role as tellers of stories so seriously? When did stories of animals turn into stories of heroes and gods? I’m going to guess and say it was probably about the same time we started living in cities and doing farming, where someone had to organize all this mass effort; and huge groups of people needed entertaining stories more relatable to what was going on around them. Also to relieve the new stresses of being in such tightly packed groups, instead of small scattered groups. To defuse dominance-submission feelings when there was more hierarchy - and that hierarchy needed to stay stable for all the crazy stones we were juggling in this new endeavor of civilization to not fall on our heads.

Civilization has always been a mixed blessing - more food, more leisure time, but more assholes telling you what to do.

Certainly there were a huge multitude of reason to tell stories, beyond just survival and basic social order. No doubt when group A forms their farming city state here, and group B forms their farming city state there - they're going to argue about the bits in between them. "Rally the troops around the great god who protects the city!" Tell some really inspiring tale of heroic deeds and those troops will go out and kick some extra ass for you. Especially if you do some prestidigitation on some pots of oil or water, and bless the troops with it - filling them with the strength of gods and heroes.

Unfortunately with hierarchies come problems. We know they have problems, and have known for some time. Also unfortunately, we're still pretty stupid, and we keep using them anyway to organize our societies. This puts the story telling priests into positions of power, because the leaders, strong men, chiefs and kings needed them to help keep their group pulling in the same direction on these new large coordinated ways of surviving together. We all have heard that phrase, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

All due respect to Lord Acton, but I agree more with Frank Herbert and David Brin, who were definitely on the same wavelength in 1985.

"All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible." Chapterhouse: Dune[1985], Frank Herbert

 "It is said that power corrupts, but actually it’s more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power." 
The Postman[1985], David Brin

This factor and the SNAFU effect, tend to perpetuate the same individuals in the hierarchy which they support, and also supports them. At least up to a certain point. Corruption eventually destroys itself.

Eventually this must have turned into the various organized religions, going back to the time of Neolithic revolution when we started farming and forming these new social structures organized around this new activity.

Of course, not all of this story telling exploded into vast religidiocy. Some of the story tellers looked within as well as without, and found stories that if you learned and told yourself over and over made you feel happier. In fact they made you impervious to pain, fear, boredom and free from all suffering. The stories told you how to look within as well as without, and see how we are all the collections of the stories we tell ourselves. How if we get rid of the stories we tell ourselves that make us feel bad, and block our vision of how we can be happy; and replace them with stories of how awesome we can feel, and act - that we have no real limits on what we can feel and do except those we set on ourselves by our past and current choices.

It seems like these second set of stories had a more mixed reception in different parts of the world. The stories of messiahs, yogis and Buddhas, have many similar bits in pieces scattered through the religidiocy we suffer thru in the West. The useful bits have just lay hidden behind cloistered doors, or under many layers of political claptrap. Possibly under some other blissed out idiot's twisted confusion of the original message. The just be happy story tellers themselves usually become victims of the status quo of existing hierarchy and it's obey and tow the line story tellers - but not always.

Out of all the blissed out dudes telling us to how to be happy, the Buddha was pretty successful. He taught nirs point of view, he lived to a ripe old age, and died. Nirs teachings have been passed down for about 2500 years. People bicker and disagree about some of the pieces of what he said, and how to apply them to one's life - the core message persists in the four noble truths and the eight-fold path. Fortunately, since one of The Buddha's teachings was the value of all live, these disagreements tend to stay civil. Although a few Buddhists here and there seem to have a problem with the all life is sacred, and that we shouldn't kill others.

Unfortunately, except for Secular Buddhism, most Buddhism has developed as much religidiocy as any other organized religion. A few of Buddhist flavored obey and tow the line story tellers, got their hands on the Dharma, and spun some of their same sad/pointless tales there. The Dharma of this era, in it's many variations, contains many things that no doubt have the Buddha spinning in nirs grave or at least making a bunch of cosmic sighs of exasperation.

The more prevalent, obey and tow the line story tellers always seem to have greater effect and success. Probably because we love to wallow in our own stupidity.

For example, the seemingly never ending list of claimants to the title of King of the Jews. Jesus of Nazareth was probably the most successful at getting nirs message out. It lasts in a Paulified version in Christianity. However, like almost all the other Jewish Messiahs, it got nir killed. Paul's version of the message was more successful once a Roman emperor got behind it. I don't think the Jews consider that a win for their Messiah, though.

Some people think that Jesus was a just be happy story teller, but after Paul and nirs crew got through with the message, it seems impossible to tell.

Mohamed, provides a good counter, counter example. Nirs successes, militarily, were spectacular compared to the Jewish Messiahs. However, nirs message got just as fragmented, and distorted as all the others. It also has retained quit a bit of the violence of its origins. To this day, the two main groups, Sunni and Shi'ite fight one of the nastiest sibling rivalries the world as known. 

Still, Islam seems young as religions go, and most religions have a violent streak. Christians were still killing people accused of witchcraft into the 19th century. Quite a few of them would still like to execute witches today, along with tax collectors, atheists, democrats, Jews, black people..etm.

Given we are one of the last bastions of religious extremists, it gives me hope that the number of atheists in this country rises with each year. Soon they will likely match the numbers of atheists in Europe. Hopefully the rest of the world will follow suit and begin to grow the fuck up, remembering the point of the stories was to learn from them, not fight over them.

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