Mysteries Are Meant to Be Worshipped

A friend recently argued that mysteries are meant to be solved, not worshiped,

Fritz Kropfreiter Protozoans move along gradients, the most pervasive of which is food. The rational, self-aware mind also moves along a gradient (call it truth, understanding, knowledge or meaning) not with some metaphysical goal in mind but simply to chase the (currently) unattainable why. Mysteries are not meant to be worshiped but solved.

I have to disagree (on a basis other than the fact that this is way too “meta” for me).

No, it’s specifically not that I think that worship of anything is a good idea, nor do I think the mumbo-jumbo that passes for 21st Century spiritualism is any better. I am talking about why we create “mythos”, as opposed to simply seeing what we don’t understand as something we don’t understand. Yes, I think this was what was on Fritz’s mind, but the fly in the ointment is our initial perspective, our frame of reference. We create a “limbic universe”, and then fashion tools (mythos) to address it.

Karen Armstrong, in The Case for God, spends a good deal of time arguing mythos (here is a precis), and dozens of bloggers wrestle with the concept on a regular basis (here is just one example). But no matter which way one looks at the “battle” over mythos, it is, at its core, a duel over the fictive, an argument over whether we can effectively populate the universe with ghosts of our own emotional and juvenile angst.

Understanding the delusional nature of mythos does not mean that one seeks to undermine every ecstatic experience, every transcendental moment; it only means that one understands that the source of that moment is not part and parcel of some arcane knowledge-infused alien. Indeed, the “wow factor” increases dramatically when we cease and desist from writing ourselves into some magical yarn from which the universe is woven. We don’t need 20th Century revivals of medieval; mystery plays to grasp our place in the world (at least some few of us don’t, the rest, well I suppose the rest go to church).

So, mystery, the invented fluid in which Homo sapiens comes to understand the numinous, is specifically fashioned to be the focus of ritual.  It is the life-blood of every religious action, from the killing of the bull, to the taking of communion.

Armstrong, Karen. The Case for God. New York: Anchor Books, 2010.

A Less Modest Proposal

Recently some folk have gotten their shorts in a twist because someone has the temerity to suggest that killing a 200 year old whale is not necessarily a good idea. Efforts to address those upset have been very unsuccessful because any word to suggest that Native harvest of whales should be challenged is labeled racism (which it, by definition, is not).

There is way too much emotive baggage, way too little reflection on issues underlying our cultural prejudices. Tribalism is inherent in Homo sapiens… we are virtually hard wired to be tribal as that provided some selective benefit as we evolved from under the shadows of the thunder lizards , but now it will kill us all. The harvest of marine mammals is still (and will likely become more of) a widely debated ethical decision (much as has happened with respect to pigs) as no human will die of lack of whale meat. The question is one of cultural relativism. If I eat children should I be allowed to continue eating children? Really. Why shouldn’t I eat your child? Or just mash it up as a blood sacrifice to my gods (which, after all, is not atypical for Homo sapiens)? While Dean Swift was being ironic when he penned “A Modest Proposal”, the point he makes is still very poignant, and the taking of marine mammals is as close to the dominionism now infecting our political culture.

If Critter A is hungry and he wants to eat another critter, he will run into some issues eventually, and he develops a credo that allows him to eat some (but not all) other critters. That credo, based largely on belief, is a matter of faith. You eat pig because you believe the pig is dumb, or you have some divine authority, or other excuse that applies to pig, but not dog, horse, or people. Many Neolithic and tribal cultures invent a mythology that results in their belief that their prey gives themselves freely to predator. This is, as suggested above, no far reach from dominionism.

Arguing that a specific cultural approach to life is inappropriate is not necessarily racist (and I think is rarely so, though humans are particularly inventive when it comes to being stupid). I think Female Genital Mutilation is horrific, yet I have no real qualms about Male Genital Mutilation… imagine that! Such cultural prejudices are endemic to Homo sapiens. At core it is now essentially a matter of faith. With the clash of cultures, questions will be asked, and I think that is appropriate – that is what Montesquieu was talking about when he discussed commerce, and the claims of “historical accident”, “cultural artifact”, or “religious tenet” can, and eventually will,  wear thin.

Swift, Jonathan. A Modest Proposal. 1729.

The Stain of God’s Anointing

Parking validation is difficult enough; the concept of validating a messiah is positively fraught.

Once upon a time (back in the days of make-believe) one could look for a slick (anointing, at least among humans, largely being effected with olive oil) but then, is that a luncheon dribble there on your tunic, or a holy pronouncement from way on high? Of course, once some clever prelate started marketing “holy water” all bets were off as the only stain water leaves is by way of contaminants (does the Lord take into account turbidity and mineral content?)

Of course, this all relates only to human anointment, and how could any human even hypothesize anointment by a deity… Goodness gracious, anointment by a supernatural alien could be by anything from neutron bombardment to a spurt of chimp semen! Look, don’t get all upset and bothered with me! I am not the one who failed to provide a CSI manual on how to detect sacred “emanations”…

I used to proclaim that I was the anointed one (not to say that, just because I don’t argue that point regularly anymore, it alters the fact that I am – the anointed one, that is – and I can show you the stains) and was somewhat disturbed by the froth that would appear on the lips of the fruiting faithful. Of course I was denounced (in the most hurtful terms) and the claim made that they would know HIM when they see HIM. Roger that; so tell me, “HOW?” Describe for me the stain of God’s anointing.

Well, they’ll stone you when you ask them for their proof…

Well, they’ll stone ya when you’re trying to be so good
They’ll stone ya just a-like they said they would
They’ll stone ya when you’re tryin’ to go home
Then they’ll stone ya when you’re there all alone
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

Well, they’ll stone ya when you’re walkin’ ’long the street
They’ll stone ya when you’re tryin’ to keep your seat
They’ll stone ya when you’re walkin’ on the floor
They’ll stone ya when you’re walkin’ to the door
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

They’ll stone ya when you’re at the breakfast table
They’ll stone ya when you are young and able
They’ll stone ya when you’re tryin’ to make a buck
They’ll stone ya and then they’ll say, “good luck”
Tell ya what, I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

Well, they’ll stone you and say that it’s the end
Then they’ll stone you and then they’ll come back again
They’ll stone you when you’re riding in your car
They’ll stone you when you’re playing your guitar
Yes, but I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

Well, they’ll stone you when you walk all alone
They’ll stone you when you are walking home
They’ll stone you and then say you are brave
They’ll stone you when you are set down in your grave
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

lyrics © Bob Dylan Music Co.