Lo, I Bring You Tidings of … Well, Just Read

Listen, oh children. Gather round the fire and I will tell you a tale in this festive, joyous season as we celebrate the origins of one World Religion by enacting traditions stolen from scores of older religions.
But let’s back up a bit.
Around 5000 years or so ago, a bunch of fairly unsophisticated nomads wandered into the land of Egypt, which was marginally more civilized (although they did still worry about death an awful lot). They stayed and worked for a while, then left, taking what they could of the Egyptian culture … which wasn’t all that much. Of the thousands of “commandments” in the Book of the Dead, they redacted the mess down to a handy, fits-on-your-camel, Ten Commandments, and set about developing their very own religion, to explain why life was so crappy … basically, they decided while sitting around dung-fed fires in the cold, God hates us. Why does God hate us, they asked themselves? Well … we hate people who do bad things to us, so God must hate us because we do bad things to HIM ….And so, a religion that was to change the world was born. And that religion, cooked up by simpleton nomads, had children of its very own over time.
The older brother religion (ever the more precocious, as older brothers usually are), came about because one of the followers of that old old religion started to wonder if maybe God doesn’t hate us because we do things to Him, but instead, God hates us because we do things to each other! What a concept. It really caught on among those who were pretty fed up with their angry god, whom they (in a fit of originality) called “God”.
But this follower, original thinker that he was (also an older brother, as it turns out) was a pretty ordinary cuss, all in all. He died young, and left only a handful of followers. But they were real clever. See, some of them had travelled a bit, and they had heard some of the tales told about the deities of other religions. So to puff up their dead carpenter/philosopher, they made his momma a virgin, miraculously (ahem) recalled tales of his wondrous feats of intellectual and magical prowess from an early age, and started trying to remember just WTF he had been on about all those years. And so Christianity was born, like its central figure, an immaculate conception, made not born (despite the Nicene Creed), with more heads than a hydra.
Centuries passed, and as the fledgling religion drew adherents among the weak and downtrodden (of whom there were quite a few – downtreading being a Roman speciality at the time). And as the hordes of followers of this religion proliferated, the leaders of its internal organization continued their clever tricks. See, some of them had travelled a bit, and they heard tale told about the deities of other religions. So to make their milque-toast credo more palatable to the folks they were trying to “bring into the fold”, they continued their tradition of accreting the local tales onto their God.
Your religion involves a big tree and winter fire festival? Hey, we gots a winter fire festival and a tree, too! Your God rides a sleigh drawn by reindeer? What a coincidence! But in Our religion, he’s just a spirit, sorry. Maybe if you’d put up more of a struggle, we’d give him more chops and given him a Realm (like we did for Hern and Pan). But since you just rolled over, spiritually, we’ll just fold in some stuff, okay?
But back to our tale.
Eventually, the parent religion started showing signs of dementia – it wouldn’t talk to anyone new, it shut itself up in isolation, it even started getting mean and snapping at anyone who tried to understand it. Eventually, it moved to a warm climate (very near its younger child, for convenience, you know?) and started dressing funny. It did nothing worthwhile, anymore, but carried a big stick with which to whack its neighbors.
While the older offspring (who by this point was pretty well-off with literally thousands of accreted deities working for it, mostly in sweatshops and subsidiary “saints days” and such) the younger offspring was not doing too badly, either. Following in the parent’s footsteps, little brother kind of pared down the overly complicated mythology of its elders, but copied big brother, too, by focusing on the downtrodden and weak. Of course, being somewhat simple, the younger child was far less flexible about incorporating the local deities. But despite being a tad intolerant and belligerent, it was doing okay, and grew and grew and grew.
Those brothers have never gotten along too well. Today, they still whack at each other – usually over divvying up stuff that belongs to neither of them (naturally). Seems they are always trying to brain each other with the jawbone of an ass, a scimitar, a musket, a tank, a Boeing, a .50 cal, an IED, a SAW, an autonomous killbot, a genetically modified plague, a nano-disassembler (oh, wait, those last few are for next war).
But at this time of the year, it behooves us to recall that we are all the philosophical descendants of dung-fire nomads puzzling out the mysteries of the universe with all the intellectual and educational equipment that a lifetime of deprivation and wandering the sand can give.
Makes ya proud, don’t it?
Merry Christmas, y’all.

2 thoughts on “Lo, I Bring You Tidings of … Well, Just Read

  1. Aethelred,

    Dear me. Let me set the record straight.

    Long, long ago, in the misty past a single man emerged amongst a tribal people, Abraham by name, who professed a belief in a single God. Whether he reached this epiphany by revalation or through the use of logic, we do not know. But the idea stuck amongst his followers. After millenia of getting pushed around, held captive, and generally brutalized by their more powerful neighbors, this spunky little group managed to gain a foothold in the Levant. Added along the way, courtesy of a leader known as Moses, a system of law was codified as the Ten Commandments. But Jewish law did not begin and end with the ten. A scholastic tradition known as rabbinical law would further refine and define man’s relationship with God. Carried out through fierce dialectic, the law would eventually give birth to what we know today as the Judeo-Christian tradition, a system of morals and ethics.

    The Christian element evolved later thanks to the work of a heretical rabbi, known by his Greek name “Jesus” and given the honorific “Christ” also a Greek word, meaning “The Annointed One.” How is it the Hellenes got involved in the business of a small heretical group of Jews? It happened that a Greek-speaking, Roman citizen, of Jewish parentage would become the chief missionary for the new religion. Saul, later Paul, by name.

    The Hellenes were near neighbors of the Jews. Over the millenia they had developed, not religion, but a system of philosphy based also on the use of fierce dialectic. Why dialectic? Well, anyone who has ever taught a Socractic seminar will attest that dialectic is remarkably adept at discovering truth through logic. Simple really. Knock down all false assumptions based on reasoned arguement, and what’s left is unassailable truth.

    But the Hellenes had been in steep decline for some time. Their tradition was passed to a new conquering people, the Romans. The combination would add a second leg to Western tradition: Greco-Roman philosophy. As it happened, the Hellenes would be the first to accept Christianity. The new religion would retain, at best, a minority status in Judea. One might ask why the Greeks were the first to begin the process of mass conversion? According to Dr. Majeska, mentor and former professor to us both, Christianity was able to complement the teachings of the Greek gnostics. The various strands began to blend, one part distinctly moral, the other very philosophical.

    Then the West suffered a long interegnum, a dark age, that left the new hybrid system in the hands of faith-based priests. The classical tradition was almost lost. But not quite. Standing on the cusp between two ages, a rather brash little collection of Italian city-states would rediscover Greece and Rome. The Italian Renaissance was born. It would spread quickly to the rest of Europe. And a curious thing happened.

    Faith-based tradition was challenged by men who enjoyed the freedom of secular societies. Or were protected by protesting princes who saw Church corruption for what it was. The protestors would become known as Protestants. The shackles of religion were loosed. Philosophers were free again to think and publish. And debate.

    The new freedom would spawn a new debate about desired forms of government, informed by, of all people, the Hellenic philosophers of some eighteen-hundred years previous. The Judeo-Christian system of ethics still ruled western society as a basic template for morality. To the mix was added the third leg of our tradition, Anglo-Saxon law, a hand-me-down from a distinctly Germanic tradition emphasizing freedom of the individual. The new code of law would evolve quickest in Great Britain where a parliamentary assembly would move from separation of church and state to separating the head of a king from his shoulders. Nice work if you ask me. Tyranny was put on notice by free citizens. The citizen would have a say in how and who ruled him.

    In the new Europe freedom of inquiry would give birth to science. The pursuit of profit would lead to the development of capitalism. The twin progeny of the West would, willy-nilly, over time, establish the first world empire. We know it as European Colonialism.

    Unfortuneately, or fortuneately depending on your viewpoint, the colonial powers would destroy themselves arguing over the spoils. The culminating event would become known as World War One. The various royal houses of Europe began to fall like a house of cards.

    Yet something remarkable happened to prove the validity of the West. Cultures world-wide who embraced freedom, capitalism, and the rule of law made unimaginable gains in their quality of life. The system is not perfect, but it provides the most for the many.

    The fly in the ointment would show itself later. It seems that over-abundance combined with too much leisure, and not enought struggle, would cause some in the West to question the system that provides so much with so little effort. Some began to feel guilty. Others blamed the system for causing discrepancies between haves and have nots. New gripes were concocted based on ancient crimes and a demands for reparations.

    In the Middle East, a region that has never able to reconcile itself to modernity, the anger generated by self-inflicted failure of entire populations, would manifest in a new nihilism. Based on an old text from the 7th Century, devoid of reason, angry as hell, they launched themselves against their alleged persecutors. And some within the targeted populations began to agree as their self-loathing reached critical mass. “We are at fault!” they proclaim, in agreement with the very people who would see them dead. Odd. Very odd.

    Decadence: a pathological state of mind caused by over-abundance and too much leisure. Manifestations include a loss of self-respect, self-worth, and belief in tradition. In its final stages, the disease causes those affected to grasp at ideologies deliberately designed to bring about cultural suicide. See also: multi-culturalism, socialism, and feminism.

  2. Well, Baz, you had me going for it up until you misspelled “fortunately” … but thas awright, I savvied the gist.
    Yep, them Iraelites are “spunky”, aren’t they?
    As for “setting the record straight,” you seem to have missed the point of my little essay, which is odd, considering that it appears to have stuck, er, struck, a nerve.
    The word, old son, is “perspective.” I realize that stuff real close to you looks bigger (hence the frantic over-reaction the Neocons evince over current events), but try to understand that the world is long, as well as wide.
    And a very decadent Festivus to you.

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