5/26/2011 | Share this article:By Carl S. ~
One might conjecture that the realities of human life are like a 20th century symphony, with dissonances and unexpected changes in tempo, rhythm, dynamics, and melodies; vast and lengthy, overflowing and enwrapping everything. Life is made up of variations on the themes of atoms, DNA and RNA. Evolution is not only the greatest show on Earth, but the song of Nature.
Image by Alan Vernon. via FlickrSocieties have their own themes, dogmas, philosophies, and stories - all evolving, adapting in attempts to answer the age-old questions which keep aggravating humans. Like the themes used in a symphony, sometimes they are modified, re-introduced, rejected eventually, only to turn up again later as new information and ideas arise.
Consider the edifices built on the beliefs of the divine powers of kings and priests and gods: temples, cathedrals, pyramids, palaces and the like. Rising to crescendos in glorious harmony and splendor, they eventually are destroyed or fall into ruins, the result of indifference, ravages of time, enemies. Is this theme indicative of the eventual endings of religions? No longer must the seeker of employment have to build these edifices in order to sustain his life and that of his family, as in the past. God beliefs were never a good reason for their construction. A building is only a building, no matter what label is on it. Gods do not need them. Religious organisms have been sporadic and a Frankensteinian construction from the body parts of older religions, a veritable DNA-style stew of primordial superstitions. While the songs of vanquished religions are ended, their melodies linger on; sometimes even those one hates.
Recently, I read a book on England's King Henry VIII, which was more about his character and times than dry history. As the author states, "There are three positions, it has been said, in which a man can stand in association with whatever he considers to be his god - moral, physical, or ritual." Henry's religious conscience, probably typical of the believers of his time, was powerfully Old Testament-based, a matter of rewards and punishments resulting from one's own good or bad actions toward God - but ritual deeply affected the outcome of these actions. Ritual, both in court and church, became all-important; so important that one might wonder if "moral" figured at all in his decisions. Henry bargained with his god and clergy for blessings: male progeny, wives, and conquest over his physical, religious and psychological enemies or potential enemies. (These are likewise the OT themes of God's chosen people and the psalmists).
Something about Henry's struggles with religion struck a chord in me. Where had I heard these tunes before? They were in Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' book, "On Death and Dying," as the five stages of dealing with one's demise: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. I think all the themes of all religions are comprised of these. There is the denial of a finality to one's existence, denials that a loving god may not exist as millions around you perish in plagues; the anger when that god punishes you and yours casually; the bargaining, especially through prayer, petition and penance, to delay, allay or avoid suffering and death; the depression of despair as one doubts that god even exists, based on overwhelming evidence, and then there is an acceptance that the god has a plan and that everything is ultimately for the best.
When one feels he has no control over his situation, one petitions someone who is supposedly in control. The true believers, like Henry VIII, live in the firm conviction that God can be coaxed by prayer and ritual into granting the wishes of man. This is a very old tune; the Egyptian priests did the same, with rigid rituals and precise words. The RC church uses contract-prayers, based on Roman legal contracts. (And does, "Ask anything in my name and it will be given to you," sound familiar?)
Those persistent and intractable rituals, those superstitions, are like melodies you can't get out of your head! Or society's, either. They don't work, don't make sense, and, as Aldous Huxley put it, “Stupid things can be said and accepted without thinking about the words - if they're tuneful.”
Henry VIII played ritual and bargaining games with his god, and he played the clergy. BUT, the clergy played him, too, because they set up the rules, for the most part. He was a practical man. There was no practical value in believing some of the foolish things in his religion, but there is value in exploiting those who do. In this, he and the clergy were together. The "Henrys" are all around us, even today, never on a secure footing with their deities, despite incantations, rituals, denials, penances, atonements, pleas and prayers. Talk about "depression!" (My father would pray the rosary every day and observe the novenas - as a guaranteed way to keep from going to hell, according to his church's teaching. Did not Henry practice his own versions, for his own "salvation?")
The themes and songs for believers are [...] handpicked by the god experts, and adapted by them for their societies, to seem like they're natural to the believer's personality; implanted there so that they "know in their hearts” that what they’ve been taught is true!The themes and songs for believers are not from within, but are instead handpicked by the god experts, and adapted by them for their societies, to seem like they're natural to the believer's personality; implanted there so that they "know in their hearts” that what they’ve been taught is true! Are not belief systems implanted neuroses?
Every culture has music; for celebrations, seduction, mourning, communication, community, longing, and entertainment. And every culture has religion. For thousands of years, spokesmen of the gods have been like Pied Pipers, leading the flocks, orchestrating the decisions of kings, other heads of state, and the mass "faithful," on what to believe, how to think, and what to think about. They have led the band into wars, orchestrating the torture and death of millions with their mesmerizing melodies.
It's about time people stopped listening to that music. For a growing few, there is now a peaceful silence; all the gods have been discredited, including the best known one. Long overdue is the time to have a final dirge for gods and a pyre for their spokesmen's traditional powers. As Alice exclaimed, "You're nothing but a pack of cards!" Now are the days for anti-hymns; the time for lyrics to Buckminster Fuller's, "I am a verb," and a time to put music to Robert Ingersoll's "The clergy know that I know that they know that they do not know.”. What a nice rhythm those words have!
In the immortal words of a Mama Cass song, it's time to "make your own kind of music, sing your own special song."