Evolution of the God Concept part 1


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All experiences of the divine must be filtered through cultural constructs, or symbols. God is beyond our understanding, thus beyond language. If we are talk about our experiences, however badly, we must filter them through culture.
RELIGION, although inherent in man, borrows its expressions from the setting or milieu in which man appears. The forms through which man expresses the supernatural are all drawn from the cultural heritage and the environment known to him, and are structured according to his dominant patterns of experience.In a hunting culture this means that the main target of observation, the animal, is the ferment of suggestive influence on representations of the supernatural. This must not be interpreted as meaning that all ideas of the supernatural necessarily take animal form. First of all, spirits do appear also as human beings, although generally less frequently; the high-god, for instance, if he exists, is often thought of as a being of human appearance. Second, although spirits may manifest themselves as animals they may evince a human character and often also human modes of action.[1]

Narrative is psychologically important to humans because it enables us to put things in perspective, to put ourselves into the story and to understand. Anything can be narrative. Even when events are taken as historical and the consciousness of myth falls away, the narrative is no less naratival. The resurrection of Christ, the existence of Jesus and his claims to be Messiah, all I take to be history and truth. Yet these are also part of the meta-narrative of Christianity. The meat-narrative is not closed or not an ideology or truth regime as long as it can be open to outside voices and to adult itself to them. For that reason the narrative hast to be fluid. The reason for this is that it has to explain the word in a new way to each new generation. To the extent that it can keep doing this it continues to be relevant and survives. This is equivalent to Kuhn’s paradigm absorbing the anomalies. Even when a certain set of fact is held out as historical and more that, but “the truth” such as Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, there is still an interpretation, a spin an understanding of just exactly how to put it, that varies from time to time and culture to culture. The facts of the event don’t change, the historical significance of it doesn’t change, but the way of relating it to each generation anew does change. This is not say that ideology doesn’t change, but the change is much slower and less obvious and less fluid. Even when the meta-narrative of a given religious tradition features factual material it’s not closed in the sense that ideology is closed and it’s still fluid.
            This is not to say that religious traditions don’t get infected with ideology. When traditions take on ideology they usually form something more than Orthodoxy, something like “fundamentalism.” Orthodoxy is just the recognition of stable boundaries that ground the fluid nature of the narrative in expression of continuity. While ideology seeks to create a black hole, like the eternal conflict between communism and anti-communism, that absorbs all light and allows nothing to escape; the attempt to suck everything in one eternal understanding. Ideology in religious tradition probably is most often he result of literalizing the metaphors. When we forget that the metaphor bridges the gap between what we know and we don’t know—through comparison--and that it contains a “like” and a “not-like” dimension, we begin to associate the metaphor with truth in literal way then we begin to formulate ideology. Critics of religious thinking might be apt to confuse dogma with ideology. Religious ideas are not automatically ideological, dogma is not automatically ideological. It’s the literalistic elements in some religious thinking (not all of course) that closes off the realm of discourse and crates a closed truth regime. The danger of form ideology may be acute in a religious setting since it is easy to confuse the metaphor with literal truth by casting over it the aura of the sacred. We often associate the things pertaining to belief in God with God, and in so doing forger a literalism that closes off discourse. Yet religious belief as a whole is too fluid to be fully ideological. Ideology is self protecting and self perpetuating. Thomas Kuhn’s talk about damage control in paradigm defense is a good example of the self defending nature of ideology. While meta-narrative often reflects concepts of divine truth, it’s too changeable to be ideological. Even though theology resists change and novelty is a bad thing in theological parlance, meta-narrative changes in spite of it all. The fact of changed is noted in the many examples of different versions of the same myth. One such change turns upon a burning question that must be raised at this point, why did religious thinking move from numatic realization to a theocentric nature?
            Why “God?” The same can be asked of the female form? Why a pseudo-parental, suzerain figure who creates the world and is in charge of the cosmos? Why not, since this model is obviously a metaphor comparing the unknown with some aspect of reality we know well, why that aspect and not another? What did people worship before they worshipped gods? Anthropology tells us that the shamanistic style of animism is older than the concept of a creator god.[2] This form of belief dates back to the stone age. Native American tribe “Shosoni, like other hunting people in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America, have an idea of a “master of the animals,” or an “owner,” a supernatural being who is in charge of the animals:
Hunting peoples in Africa, Europe, Asia and America have developed the idea of a supernatural owner of the animal species, or of all animals, who protects them, commands them, and at request from hunters delivers them to be slayed and eaten. The concept is not infrequent in North America. The master of animals is a spirit, generally figured as an animal. The Shoshoni have possibly in very remote times known the coyote, or rather the mythical Coyote, as a master of animals. With the impact of Plains Indian culture the buffalo and the eagle have halfway achieved the position as master of animals and master of birds, respectively. In all fairness it should be pointed out, however, that this type of concept is very little noticeable among the Shoshoni.[3]

We must be cautious but since “shamanism” is connected to animism this owner of the animals might imply a transition between animistic thinking and beliefs in gods. We can’t say that all religions evolved in the same way in every location, but it does seem that in general it was an evolution from nameless “spirits” to specific pantheon of gods. The development of the concept of God was probably influenced by thoughts of parents, of tribal chiefs, or the leader, long before they became complex enough to fit a suzerain model. Yet it does seem that the concept of God evolved out of an understanding of nature oriented religion and evolved slowly over time based upon comparison with the authority figures we know best in life.
            In his work The Evolution of God,[4] Robert Wright distills the work of anthropology over the last two centuries and demonstrates an evolutionary development, form early superstition that personified nature (pre-historic people talking to the wind)[5], through a polytheistic origin in pre-Hebrew Israelite culture,[6] to monotheistic innovation with the God of the Bible.[7]Wright is distilling a huge body of work that stretches back to the ninetieth century, the work of countless archaeologists, historians, and anthropologists. Another such successful distiller of scholarship in recent years is Karen Armstrong. In her work A History of God: The 4000 year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, [8] she presents a similar evolutionary story, focusing specifically upon the Biblical religions. She sees the pre-historical religious scene through the eyes of wonderment at the world around us. The cave paintings she understands as an attempt to record participation in the all pervasive aspect of the enchanted world.[9] The general agreement between scholarship, social sciences, and the work of anthropologists is that the concept of God is a product of the evolution of human thought.[10] At one time the concept was not, then it began and it has developed over time. Of course the great body of this work is coming out of naturalistic assumptions, especially in the ninetieth century. In the anthropological study of the evolution of religion those assumptions centered around the concept of projection in human thinking. People are projecting the relationship with the father or the king. This assumption can be traced to the work of Ludwig Feuerbach, social critic and precursor to Marxian analysis (God is the mask of money). He understood the concept of projection in terms of Hegel’s philosophy of spirit.[11] In The Essence of Christianity Feuerbach argues that superhuman deities are involuntary projections based upon the attributes of human nature.[12] How this thesis came to be the basis of modern anthropological understanding of religious evolution is not hard to seek. As Harvey puts it “It became the Bible to a group of revolutionary thinkers including, Arnold Ruge, the Bauers, Karl Marx, Richard Wagner, Frederic Engles.[13] This circle became a major part of the basis of modern social thought. While modern anthropology has not necessarily played out Feuerbach’s actual inversion of Hegel it has taken its que from him by making assumptions about theoroes of prodjection of one kind or another.
            Hegel did not think of God as some projection of human imagination. Feuerbach inverted Hegel’s concept to produce the idea. Hegel understood stages of human culture as “moments in the unforlding of absolute spirit.”[14] Thus, as Harvey points out, the various stages in religious development can be seen as stages in the self manifestation of Spirit.[15] In other words, from the cave paintings, to the shamans and the wind talkers to the highest aspirations of Judo-Christian ethics, Spirit (God), is making himself aware of himself by moving through progressive revelation to humanity. “In other words, the history of religion culminating in Christianity was a progressive revelation of the truth that the absolute is not merely an impersonal substance but a subject.”[16] Feuerbach inverts this principal by asserting that finite spirit is becoming aware of itself through externalizing its own attributes and then projecting them into magnified from.[17]On Feuerbach’s part this was the result of a long struggle with idealism. Be that as it may, and for both sides, it’s clearly the roots of ideology. It sowed the seeds of ideology in terms of the social sciences naturalistic assumptions. Now we find those same kinds of assumptions being made with regard to the laws of physics. Paul Davies has been quoted to say that the traditional view of the laws of physics are just seventeenth century monotheism without God, “Then God got killed off and the laws just free-floated in a conceptual vacuum but retained their theological properties,”[18] The assumption of modernity is always that belief in God is dying out, religion is of the past, these are the things that are dying. Armstrong sounds the death knell and starts singing the dirge in first book. She observes that “one of the reasons why religion seems irrelevant today is that many of us no longer have the sense that we are surrounded by the unseen.”[19] It’s so irrelevant she’s writing books about it.
We can just hear those atheists saying "yes this proves man invented God," not so fast. see part 2 on friday.


 sources
[1] Ake Hultkrantz, “Attitudes Toward Animals in Shashoni Indian Religion,” Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 4, No. 2. (Spring, 1970) © World Wisdom, Inc. no page listed,online archive, URL:
[2] Weston La Barre, “Shamanic Origins of Religion and Medicine,” Journal of Psychedelic Drugs, vol 11, (1-2) Jan. June 1979 no page listed, PDF, URL: http://www.cnsproductions.com/pdf/LaBarre.pdf  accessed 3/22/13.
[3] Hultkrantz, op. cit.  the author also cites other works by himself on the matter: Cf. Hultkrantz, The Owner of the Animals in the Religion of the North American Indians (in Hultkrantz, ed., The Supernatural Owners of Nature, Stockholm Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 1, 1961). Hultkrantz, The Masters of the Animals among the Wind River Shoshoni (Ethnos, Vol. 26:4, 1961).
[4] Robert Wright, The Evolution of God, New York: Back Bay Books, reprint edition, 2010.  The book was Originally published in 2009. The company “Back Bay books: is an imprint of Hachette Books, through Little Brown and company. Wright studied sociobiology at Princeton and taught at Princeton as and University of Pennsyania. He edits New Republic and does journalistic writing of science, especially sociobiology.
[5] Wright, ibid, 9
[6] ibid. 10
[7] ibid, 11
[8] Karen Armstrong, A History of God: The 4000 Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. New York: Ballantine Books, 1994.
[9] Ibid, 4-6
[10] T. M. Manickam,, Dharma According Manu and MosesBangalore : Dharmaram Publications,1977,6.
[11] Van A. Harvey, Feuerbach and The Interpretation of Religion, Carmbridge: Press Syndicate for the University of Cambridge, Cambridge Studies in Religion and Critical Thought, 1995/1997, 4.
Harvey is professor emeritus, taught religious studies at Stanford Univesity. His Ph.D. from Yale in 1957. His thesis supervisor was H.Richard Neibhur.
[12] Cited by Harvey, ibid., 25.
[13] ibid, 26.
[14] ibid.
[15] ibid.
[16] ibid.
[17] ibid, 27
[18] Dennis Overbye, quoting email message from Paul Davies, “Laws of Nature, Source Unknown,” “Science” New York Times. December 19, 2007. on line edition URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/18/science/18law.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1& accessed, 3/25/13.
[19] Armstrong, op.cit. 4.

Comments

Joe Hinman said…
ok let's get s,e comments going here.
Jason Pratt said…
I reaaaalllllyyyy don't think my comments right now would be a good idea. I'll wait until I see where you're going with it.

JRP

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