Once there was a pantheon of Gods. Divine figures worshipped in the hopes of saving us from chaos and make sense of the cruelties of life. As time passed and civilizations grew more stable, those gods morphed into a single God. But where are the old Gods? Did they fade away, are they still in Vahalla, the Eleysian Fields, or paradise, sitting around drinking ambrosia in retirement? Are they waiting for a comeback?
Human civilization has evolved and our relationship to God has evolved as well. We once looked to the God(s) to help us to increase our crops, insure good hunting, ward off disaster. Now we turn to the divine for more subtle answers to the meaning of our modern complex existence. Questions that the old religions are increasingly unable to answer.
Historically a religion starts out as a cult viewed with suspicion and scorn by the status quo. There are attempts to squash the new cult by the dominant culture. The cult grows until it becomes a religion. Often it gains popularity because it appeals to a broader and usually an oppressed segment of society then the current ideology. Over time it replaces the old regime with it’s size, power and mass appeal. The need to protect it from newer ideologies also grows until it becomes as oppressive as the one it replaced. Entrenched dogma demands allegiance and obedience. It doesn’t change and flow with reality because it wants to fix reality in place- it’s reality. This kind of thinking , no matter how righteous or powerful, conflicts with human free will which is always changing. Because change is enviable, we must adapt in order to survive.
When a religion refuses to go forward, people get fed up with the stubbornness of the ideology and split away. Roman and Orthodox Catholics and Protestant Christianity, Orthodox and Reform Judaism, Shia and Sunni Islam, Indian and Zen Buddhism. All happened as a result of divergence interpretations of the original ideology.
When Galileo questioned the status quo by looking up at the heavens with his telescope he believed irrefutably in the divinity of God’s word, what he questioned was man’s interpretation of it. Like the Catholic Church threatening to excommunicate anyone who dared to look through Galileo’s telescope, these days, the self appointed guardians of sacred knowledge threaten anyone looking for change. Every new challenge to the status quo is met with violence, and fanatical resistance.
The latest rise of fundamentalism is an attempt to arrest the evolving view of the divine. The adherents want to make damn sure nobody changes anything about their God and His message. They incite someone to straps a bomb to their body and kill those who disagree with them. Instant martyrdom, but they are not martyrs, they are victims of rhetoric; sacrificial lambs for someone else’s cause.
We are in the midst of a paradigm shift that has been happening for two decades. The eventual outcome of this shift-as in the past- is a new perspective on the divine.
The fundamentalist would say this world is doomed because we have not clung to the old ways and will suffer God’s wrath but what if God wants us to change? What if the “The laws of God” as the faithful call them, are not immutable but constantlyshifting like reality? Passing over rules like not eating pork or being unveiled in public does not make one less faithful. Hating or killing each other for not following the rules does. Sacred scriptures are meant to help us define morality not textbooks for dress codes and nutrition. Martin Luther realized that faith, not good deeds or following the laws gets you to heaven. What matters more to the divine; how you say your prayers or how you live your life? We continue to think the divine is in the spelling rather than the meaning of the word.
I once thought of my parents as all powerful, people who would protect me, and whose explanation of the world I accepted without question. As I grew older I realized they were not the perfect beings I thought they were. I rebelled agarinst the boundaries they set for me. At one point I dismissed their every utterance as nonsense; even crippling. As I grew older and wiser I have come to see them - faults and all- in a kinder, more compassionate light. I now understand the reason for their rules was to protect me and how tose rules cahnged as I matured.
Perhaps, I wonder, God handed us some laws knowing they would be obsolete in a hundred or a thousand years and waited to see how long it would take for us to outgrow those rules. Like a child admonished not to eat candy or ruin their appetite; we were given such rules to guide us through our spiritual childhood.
When I was a child, I spoke as a child ,
I understood as a child,
I thought as a child
but when I became a an adult,
I put away childish things.