(Note: As you can see from the frequency and out put, our friend Pamplanil is a voracious reader, prolific frankly speaking (a rare find) writer and a mine of critical information for those interested to choose and learn from. A tree is to be judged from what it produces.
For those interested to know more about the writer, his profile is given, at the end of this article. You may read his profile first and this article second or vice versa. The choice is yours. Wish you happy reading on his musings on ‘Religions & Gods’. james kottoor, editor ccv.)
The Hebrew Bible, the starting point for Judaism, Christianity and Islam contains remnants of primitive religions. The monotheism of Abrahamic religions evolved organically out of ancestral milieu. Edward Tylor says: the primitive form of religion was “animism” the attribution of life to the inanimate. The hypothesis that humans have souls was widespread in the primitive societies. Animism also handled the enigma of death: death happens when the soul departs from body.
The early impetus to religion came largely from the attempt to make sense of the world. Religion has been deeply shaped by factors ranging from politics to economics. Theologians of the Abrahamic lineage — Jewish, Christian and the Islamic – are constrained by the stiff premise that reality is governed by an all-knowing, all powerful God. Tylor also observes that the religions of the primitive societies are almost devoid of the ethical element, the sine-qua- non of present day mainstream religions.
Nevertheless, the moral standards of primitive people were generally well defined and praiseworthy. But these ethical laws stand their own ground of tradition and public opinion and NOT on a religious foundation. Punishments for human wrong doings are not left to the deity, nor is its concern. Religion did not concern itself about morality in the beginning. The hunter-gatherer society’s morals did not deploy the moral incentive of heaven for good deeds and hell for the bad ones.
According to evolutionary psychologists, human nature includes, at least two basic innate mechanisms enabling people behave nicely; “kin selection” and “reciprocal altruism” making humans to be considerate of kins and friends, with whom there is enduring cooperative relationships. Anthropologist Elman Service observes that values such as love, generosity and honesty “are not preached nor buttressed by threat of religious reprisal in these societies, because they need not be”. Modern societies preach these values as they worry “mostly about morality in the larger society, outside the sphere of kindred and close friends.” Universal love, an ideal preached by many modern religions, though it is “honoured mainly in its breach” was not the ideal in typical hunter-gatherer society.
What is religion?
Basically adherence to any religion is self serving. “It’s single function is to give man access to the powers which seems to control his destiny and it’s single purpose is to induce those powers to be friendly to him ….nothing else is essential” (H. L. MenChen).
Self-interest is the core of religion. Religion “consists of the belief that there is an unseen order, and our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto”(William James in “The Varieties of Religious Experiences”) Self interest can be aligned to the interests of the self, or family, or society etc. Religion needs to mature more if the world is to survive in good shape and, above all, if it has to hold the respect of intellectually critical people.
Once there is belief in the supernatural, there will be demand for people who claim to fathom it viz. religious experts known as “shamans”. They claim ability to contact with the hidden world that shapes the human destiny. They tend to focus their power on things that are important but erratic: illness, weather, predators and prey. They claim to possess powers to inflict decease and death, to cure all disorders, to make known distant and future events, to cause rain, hail and tempest, to call up the souls of the dead and consult them on hidden matters and many more things that ordinary people are unable to do.
The seminal scholar of shamanism, Mircea Elidewrites:
“what is fundamental and universal is the shaman’s struggle against what we call ‘powers of evil’ ….It is consoling and comforting to know that a member of the community is able to see what is hidden and invisible to the rest and to bring back direct and reliable information from the supernatural worlds”. The shaman represents a crucial step in the emergence of organised religion. The shaman is the forerunner of the Archbishop and the Ayatollah. Shamanism flourished till church hierarchies discouraged direct experience of the divine by making themselves sole conduits to the sacred. Some serious scholars see in the Stone Age shaman, the origins of mysticism. Notwithstanding the claim of priesthood having stepped into the shoes of the divine, religion having been come from the brains of people, is bound to bear the marks of the species, for good or bad.
Primordial religion emerged from the attempt of some people to explain why good and bad things happen; to predict their happening, and, if possible, to intervene for the better option. They became leaders in their field and further to shaman-hood. The high status of shamans brought them both tangible and intangible benefits such as wealth, prestige and above all, more females in the form of polygamy. Quite often, shamans resorted to dubious practices like ventriloquism, sham tricks, sleight of hand and consumption of hallucination inducing substances. The world’s shamans, Archbishops, Ayatollahs, astrologers, priests of various ilk have had their sway over the people. “The limits of spiritual dedication and self advancement have often been unclear in the history of religions” (Anthropologist Spencer Rogers:The Shaman ).
Gods – Ancient
In ancient Mesopotamia, where divinities first emerged, they were often less than divine. A prominent God named Enki was a drunkard and the goddess Innanna (later Ishtar) spent much of her time having sex. An early hymn says: “sixty then sixty satisfy themselves in her nakedness. Young men have tried, Ishtar will not tire”. She was the patron deity of prostitutes and thought to help wives to conceal their adultery. Gods were noted for their cunning and ferocity as well as their love and compassion.
Humans in their mind and behaviour, they assumed a variety of forms including some creepy ones. The fundamentally good Christian good God, who focusses on the moral improvement of human beings and caring about his people, not the gratification of his own desires, is a later emanation. The God of the Hebrews of the first millennium BCE (BCE means: Before the Common Era, formerly noted by: BC, before Christ and & AD, after Christ.. Present usage is: BCE & CE: Before Common Era & Current Era) had crystallised in Jesus Christ. Still this is a false divide. Around the beginning of the third millennium BCE, there was no sign of monotheism. Cultural evolution was all along pushing divinity towards moral enlightenment.
The cardinal features of the gods of Egypt were determined by the existence and power of all pervading religious beliefs. In the second millennium BCE nearly two thousand gods were listed. Much like in the Catholic faith with saints for different vocations and purposes, so in the ancient, there were gods for farmers, scribes, merchants and craftsmen; gods for brick making and brewing. Aztecs had deity for even robbers, Mayans had a God for suicide; Mesopotamia had gods for valet, gate keeper and hairdresser, one God was inspector of canals. These gods expected goods and services from humans and dished out rewards or punishments accordingly; every where sacrifices were made to gods and flattered/worshiped and their every needs were met. Much like the Catholic priests of today, the ancient priests had their heydays.
In Egypt, King Amenhotep IV attempted monotheism by elevating Re, also known as Aten, represented by the luminous “Sun Disc”, subduing the most powerful God Amun, the favourite of politically and financially powerful priests . Aten became the God “who decrees life, he who created the Earth; he who built himself by himself”. The King named himself Akhenaten, helper of Aten and appointed himself as Aten’s high priest. After the death of Amenhotep, the favoured gods of the priesthood came back and attempt for monotheism was suppressed.
Aten clearly foreshadowed the Hebrew God, Yahweh. According to Sigmund Freud, Moses was in Egypt during Aten’s reign and carried the idea of monotheism to Canaan. (According another theory, Moses was one among the 150 or so of Egyptian princes, born to one of the 100 wives of the Pharaoh, who, after killing another prince, escaped through the Sea of Reeds (mind you, not through the Red Sea ) to Canaan along with the followers of Aten).
Religion of Ancient Israel
Christians and Muslims and Jews believe in a God who, according to the Bible, revealed himself to Abraham in the second millennium BCE. Though all three groups claim the same lineage, they don’t see each other as worshipping the same God. This perception has resulted in extreme Yahweh-on- Yahweh violence of every sort, Crusades, jihads, and all, reinforcing Abrahamic monotheism’s notoriety for belligerent intolerance.
It is necessary to understand how the Abrahamic God evolved. Many believers think that He was there in the beginning, fully formed; then gave shape to everything else. If one reads the Bible carefully, it tells the story of a god in evolution, a god whose character changes radically from beginning to end. The remnants of Ugaritic language and other vestiges of Canaanite culture unearthed in the early twentieth century and recent decades in Ugarit, an ancient Canaanite city, has brought about a revisit on the story told in the Bible. It challenges the standard basis of the monotheistic faith and renders the Abrahamic God often in unflattering terms.
For a start, though Yahweh may have ended up “in a realm apart, a remote, even transcendent God, whose presence is felt subtly but this is not the kind of God that comes across in the earliest scriptures. Fragments of the Bible of the period that may go back as far as the closing centuries of the second millennium BCE, when most, if not all of Genesis took shape tell a different story. The Hebrew God personally “planted” the garden of Eden and He “made garments of skins” for Adam and Eve “and clothed them”.And He did not do these things while hovering ethereally above the planet.
After Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, according to the Genesis, “they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze; the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden”. Hiding may sound like a naïve strategy to deploy against the omniscient God we know of today, but apparently he wasn’t omniscient back then. For “the Lord God called to the man and said to him “Where are you?”
In short, Yahweh at this point was remarkably like all those “primitive” gods of hunter-gatherer societies and chiefdoms: so strikingly human, with supernatural power to be sure, but not with infinite power. It may seem strange that the God who created the whole universe would be limited to “walking” through the garden of Eden which means that in the beginning Yahweh was not yet a “cosmic” creator. Early affirmations of devotion to Yahweh don’t single him out for being the only God but the best God for the Israelites to worship. Would the Bible authors have warned against “serving” other gods, if those gods did not even exist? The Bible famously says that God “created man in His own image”. But those are not Yahweh’s words, He says “Let us make him in ‘ OUR’ image, after “our” likeness. (There is more in the Bible to substantiate this point.)
Yahweh before the Yahweh
There is no reason to assume that Israeli monotheism emerged any where other than Canaan. The Israelite religion is an outgrowth of Canaanite culture. Yahweh actually started life as Canaanite God El. In the Bible one will not find the Hebrew word Yahweh for God, but rather the Hebrew word for El. In the historic records, El appears before Yahweh leading to the conclusion that in some way Yahweh emerged from El. During one of Moses’ conversations, God says “I am Yahweh. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as El Shaddai, but my name Yahweh; I did not make myself known to them”; Yahweh himself says that he started life with the name El.
Yahweh’s Sex Life
One oft-claimed difference between the Abrahamic God and other gods is that Israel’s God “has no sexual qualities or desires”. It seems puzzling that, if Yahweh eventually emerged from El and El had a sex life, why didn’t the post-merger Yahweh inherit El’s consort, the goddess Athirat. May be he did. There are references in the Bible to a goddess named Asherah and scholars have long believed that Asherah is the Hebrew version of Athirat. Archeologists in the late 20 th century discovered intriguing inscriptions dating to 800 BCE, at two different Middle Eastern sites; “blessings in the name of not just of Yahweh but of his Asherah”.
The question of Yahweh’s sex life is part of a larger question that has high stakes. It is bad news for those who depict Yahweh as totally different from pagan myths. In fact Yahweh’s family history may contain something even more scandalous than an early fusion with Canaanite deity El. It may be that Yahweh while inheriting El’s genes, somehow acquired genes from the most reviled of all Canaanite deities: Baal.
Theologian Robert Karl Gnuse presciently observed in 1997 that a paradigm shift, “a gradual evolution of a complex Yahwistic religion from a polytheistic past” had taken place; the perception of Israel’s intellectual continuity with the ancient world. New religions do not come outbox from nowhere. But intellectual continuity can be messy and it was certainly in the case of ancient Israel. The head of the Canaanite pantheon was El and Yahweh inherited much of El’s character. There is ample evidence to put Yahweh in Baal’s lineage as well. He is described in the language used to describe Baal and he fights the very mythic enemies that Baal fought.
It is important to remember that gods are products of cultural evolution. In biological evolution, lines of descent are neat; one gets all traits either one parent or two, depending on whether the species reproduce clonally or sexually. But either way the heritage is set. Cultural evolution can be fussy.
A short profile of Varghese Pamplanil in his own words
"I am a 78 year old retired Dy. General Manager of Reserve Bank of India, with a good track record of 37 years’ of service, retired as at end of October 2000, residing in Kanjirapally since November 2000 with my partner of over 50 years.
Academically, I did my graduation in Economics with Politics and World History as subsidiaries and did post graduation at the Bombay School of Economics. In the Reserve Bank, one of the best institutions in the field, which I had the privilege to be part of, have equipped me with knowledge in financial, economic and banking and sharpened my thinking process.
Luckily I have a pension from the Bank, adequate to buy rations for self and for my spouse. My two sons, one a citizen of U. K. and the other of U. S. are able to look after themselves and their families. Since retirement l could resume my interest in reading. In our family, books are given as presents for birthdays wedding anniversaries etc. Used, some times rare books, are available through Amazon. Such nominally priced books can be picked up in charity shops especially in U.K. Myself, my sons and their children are avid readers of books. We are people thinking free without the shackles of any religious or political affiliations. I have a small collection of books on Christianity and other matters, mostly gifted by my children.
At present apart from reading and writing, my interests are listening to music, watching sports channels, growing fruits and vegetables.
I was a devoted, often church going and confessing Catholic till the age of 18. Since then I started to have doubts about the Church teaching after learning new things. At the moment, Idon’t SUBSCRIBE to or FOLLOW any religion. I am a SECULAR HUMANIST by temperament and AGNOSTIC in belief. I am guided by rationality and probability. I try to analyse dichotomies and oddities in propositions and situations.My knowledge is very limited; l am a seeker in my own way. I have to travel long before I sleep? To err is human but to forgive is Devine. So kindly forgive my many trespasses. I have malice to none. KINDLY NOTE THAT MY FACE BOOK ACCOUNT IS SOLELY MEANT FOR EXCHANGING IDEAS."