Monday, September 14, 2009

Creation Stories of the Middle East , A Reaction

Ewa Wasilewska,

Have just finished reading your Creation Stories of the Middle East, and found it enlightening in many ways. Within your discipline, I am sure many are aware of the insights you provide, but for me it has exposed and detailed many key features in the evolution of how we, today, relate to each other, nature and the cosmos.

I am especially interested in the evolution of mind away from the flexible polytheism of pre-civilized peoples toward the more rigid and intolerant mono-theism of today. By contextualizing this process, you also relativize the duality of good and evil, showing it to be a natural outcome of the natural selection of ideas, and not absolute as so many religionists would have us believe. I am left to wonder whether urban life is not itself the explanation for the evolution of more rigid social and belief systems.

I also appreciate that you relate this evolution to ecological (resource) problems. I am interested in the carrying capacity of the planet for Homo sapiens, so it is interesting to see that the earliest civilizations recognized this problem, and that later mythologists (simultaneously to their invention of the single god and of good and evil?), chose to unmake this self-constraining vision and make a vision which promotes conflict, conquering and warfare as a solution to resource problems. If the alienation of physical from divine realities characterizes religion, then no wonder there are people who are as fervently anti-religion as others are fervently religious.

So I will need to read Creation Stories again to fully understand your explanation for the emergence of "religion". You seem to identify the term with institutions which propose a duality of physical reality and divine reality, where the divine reality cannot be understood without a transcendent and perhaps irrational faith. Because of this duality, you seem to be saying, the relationship between people and the divine ceased to be personal, daily, immediate, and more-or-less non-judgmental, and grew the relationship of power-over, of hierarchy, control, and, ultimately, suggested an irresponsible and narcissistic explanation for human life.

Hence, colonialism, corruption, resource wars, greed on Wall Street, consumerism and the cult of consumption, can - might be - explained in terms of a denatured humanity. Examples of human cruelty throughout time and across the globe challenge the idea of an innocent time ("the noble savage"), but then, the more poly-theistic characteristics of flexibility, cooperation, and mutual respect, have proven effective social and economic strategies, earlier in human history, for promoting survival, and to suppress them would result in the world we have, a world in which survival of life is not assured.

The intellectual and emotional substrate of polytheism remains in us and remains active, as does the mono-theistic drive for control. If the tendencies of, even sweeping assertions of the power of, these two minds, is revealed on the stage of world and U.S. politics at this very moment, we are given reasons for both hope and despair, that humanity can survive its impending ecological crisis.

Thank you for an introduction to the topic of the creation of the world as we know it.

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