To the Zealots:
— which may include the Religious, Pious, Orthodox, Evangelical, Fundamentalist, Dogmatic, Scriptural, Ecclesiastical, Sectarian and the like–
I don’t identify with a single myopic vein of thought, and any hopes of converting me into the herd would not only be regressive and detrimental to a healthy flourishing mind seeking wisdom, it would be futile.
I do love you, and I love that you always think of me and share these little bits of biblical joy you come across, but I’m not looking for answers. I’m looking for understanding. So while these may contain little nuggets of biblical wisdom and feel good rhetoric, they will not be an end for me. As an evolving creature it is my duty to adopt all the wisdom of the world so that I may adapt to and overcome challenge and flux and obstacles most appropriately.
Contrary to religious ideology, understanding the human condition is the beginning of all wisdom. But this requires that we consult not only external sources, but explore our internal sources as well. In Greek culture religion was not an individual journey nor a spiritual encounter but a collective enterprise to create a uniformity of experience via the dissemination of a consistent historical narrative which detailed social values and collective moral agreement. The gods of the pantheon were not seen as real or existing, but only as anthropomorphic representations which preserved aspects of the human condition; that is, they were the idealized values and virtues incarnated into typological beings and symbolic situations (myths, fables, parables) that could communicate and explain the world to each generation in society through oral or written language.
The preservation of this culture and its order was predicated on a cultures ability to retain this language, which they called nomos. In Greek nomos means “law” and refers to the structural ordering of experience, specifically relating to daily living and normative activities. Religion was simply an institutional vehicle that served as a way of preserving and perpetuating nomos, or social order and law. The nomos provided explanations and resolutions in the face of anomos, or chaos, conflict and turmoil. The individual appealed to this collective social law for explaining and handling problems arising in their conscious experience that was outside their ability to resolve themselves. In this way individuals sought the advice of the priests or prophets who knew the oral or written tradition exquisitely and offered their personal or propaedeutic interpretations– interpretations that would be absorbed into the tradition for later consultation, much like a contemporary judge’s ruling becomes canonical common law.
Language is all important. The limits of your language dictate the limits of your world.
Man is not made in the image of god: God is made in the image of man. “In the beginning was the word and the word was with god and the word was god.” (John 1:1) Interestingly, ‘word’ here is Gk. logos derived from the Proto-Indo-European word *leg- meaning “to collect, bind, gather”. The word ‘religion’ is a combination of the words re- “again” + lego “choose, gather” or “I go over or go through again in reading, speech, thought, read, relate or recite again, revise, recount”. In this way we see the intimate connection between repetition in binding words to the mind in order to create a consistent world view, a structured ordering of experience. Religion is the institution charged with the preservation and diffusion of a language via enculturation. Throughout history religious institutions have been replaced by various community organizations and governing bodies, most notably Academic institutions that actively inquire about the world with a more precise and thoughtful methodology.
On an interesting side note, the first institution of higher learning, Plato’s Academy, was established in the olive gardens on the temple grounds of Athena, the goddess of wisdom. It is no coincidence that the first school of philosophy– the love of wisdom– and the first institution of higher learning (beyond the gymnasium) was affiliated with the cult of Athena. The Academy derives its name from the legendary Greek Attic hero Akadamos who defected to the aid of the Tyndarid’s Castor and Pollux when they invaded Attica to liberate their sister Helen. As a result, the Lacedaemonians devoted a plane of land in homage to Akadamos planted with Olive trees in the spot where he revealed to the Divine twins where Thesus had hidden Helen of Troy. This plot of land was located just outside the walls of Athens and was later the site where Athena’s temple stood throughout the Bronze Age.
Through this brief sketch I hope it becomes obvious of the potential trappings of cultural institutions like religion. As their perfunctory duty to society, they seek to preserve the status quo, to present man to himself through a slanted portrait of the past. In a “stable” society the only people who can offer legitimate interpretations are those in positions of authority, i.e. priests, professors, professionals, politicians or any other title. Every so often a prophet arises from the herd and expresses the collective opinion in a fell swoop of the pen or brush or voice. These are the artists, the leaders, the creators, the visionaries– all subversive forces of established authority, all necessary agents of evolution and change. These are the disestablishmentarianists, the revolutionaries, the rebels, the terrorists. They are impelled to express the change they see around them, to lead the blind into the light. They are called by nature to tip the scales in favor of progress, despite the howls from stagnating pools of thought and undeterred by the biting guilt of defection, of desecrating antiquated tradition and custom.
The Greeks maintained that the past contained the understanding necessary for adapting to the present. What is important is that, like the Greeks, we view our culture as an instrument of understanding and ordering experience and maintain a tolerance and openness to other cultures and veins of thought. All language, all culture, all knowledge aims at providing explanatory power and utility for navigating through the world. To remain prejudice is to retain a myopic view of the world, deficient in variegated color and devoid of curvaceous depth, and we rob ourselves of another instrument for charting our world.