"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
- Hamlet Act I Scene V
"Myth - A fiction or half-truth, especially one that forms part of an ideology."
- American Heritage Dictionary
August 13th, 2006
I have a theory on how faith and religion started and I think it's pretty good.
It's relatively sound and makes a lot of sense especially when you look at it realistically. But don't take it from me. Make up your own mind. I did not come by this theory by extra chemical means or after vast amounts of alcohol. I simply sat down one day and just thought about it. They are, after all, some of the the big questions: Why? Why do we have religion and what purpose does it serve?
In my rant, The Price of Myth, I essentially address people as beginning with a tabular rasa, blank slate, and have a default operating system which helps them survive in a very rudimentary way. Babies cry when they are hungry, thirsty, sleepy, or need to be changed. I also go on to explain that many people inherit their religious beliefs from their parents as they generally get their worldview from the almost constant exposure to their parents during their formative years.
One doesn't learn a Texas accent from school. One gets a Texas accent from living in Texas and talking to Texans*. When a person is immersed in an environment knowing nothing else, he or she absorbs what is abundant.
But I digress.
Why do we have faith and religion? I believe it evolved from watching others die. Think about it. Early man had no religion. He knew his parents or parent. He knew friends and family as well as other animals. He knew that things died. That at one moment people were moving and breathing and then the next moment they were not. He knew that when he needed to hunt for food he needed to make the food dead and then eat it.
So he understood the concept of death. Death was when people stopped living. Eventually, he would see someone he cared about die and when they did, if this was a prolonged sickness, which I imagined was quite common given the surroundings, that those people had a fear of death. These people I'm sure were terrified that they would no longer live anymore. Things were getting darker. It was getting harder to breathe. They did not really understand what was happening to them only that when it happened to others they were dead soon afterward.
They were scared.
Can you imagine if you were a person who lived long enough to see many people die and wanted to show some kind of compassion and humanity to that person, what would you do? Well, you'd probably lie to them. Actually, lie is not the correct word.
You'd invent a story.
On a person's deathbed, you'd tell them that they were going to join everyone else who had died. They would go to what I'll continually refer to as a happy place. Happy place in this use would be heaven, nirvana, or the summer lands. This place was always nice and pretty and it was something that people would want to go to when their time came. And if the people believed in that happy place hard enough their last thought on this earth would not be one of terror, it would be one of anticipation and peace.
Doesn't that make sense? As the body and brain are shutting down and people see what they expect to see, like the others who went before them, the dying are no longer terrified of leaving. They are, after all, going to a better place. This last moment of life shows them the happy place.
This I imagine started to be a successful ploy and as the inventor of the happy place story eventually died and took the fact that it was just a story with him into the void or wherever he went. It eventually became myth. Other people would use the happy place story and they'd see it was working and they'd get an elder to communicate the happy place story to other people so they would not be scared of the inevitable.
This is called having faith. You can have faith in anything and in any mythology but the one thing that all myths have is a death myth on where the soul goes after death. The vikings called it Valhalla (for the brave). The Christians call it Heaven. The Pagans call it the Summer Lands. Every culture has some name and place for it. Eventually this faith brings people to their happy place.
So where does religion come in?
My belief or theory is that people who needed to control their populace invented rules to help govern them. These rules wrapped up in the happy place mythology were used to keep the people in line. The threat the religious elders would make is if the people didn't follow the rules to their mythology they would not be able to go to the happy place. As a matter of fact, if the person broke the rules, they'd go to the bad place.
The bad place was a terrible place. It was so bad that to even imagine it would cause you pain. It was a lake of fire. It was eternal torment. It was NOT GOING TO THE HAPPY PLACE. People would need to follow the rules because if you didn't you would not have a peaceful death. Your life would just end. It was this terror the religious leaders saw would be effective in controlling the masses.
I'm sure that this was very effective in controlling the masses. It gave people a generic framework to live with each other in a civilized manner. The rules may say that killing and stealing are wrong and will keep you from the happy place. The rules may say that when you sleep with another person's mate, it would keep you from the happy place. But most of all, if you failed to acknowledge your myth as being the exclusive story to the happy place you would not go to the happy place.
Eventually, what happened was that people saw there were too many people afraid of the bad place and were no longer dying in peace because everyone eventually will break the rules. So what some religions did was offer the concept of final absolution or being reborn. This is all the same thing actually. Final absolution is actually better for the person because it's less of a control measure.
These two things allowed a person who was dying to make peace. This was not for the church or the society but for the person himself. After all, what does a society gain by not allowing a person a peaceful death. So the priest, rabbi, or shaman says to the person "Are you sorry for all the rules you might have broken consciously or unconsciously?" The dying person says, "Yes." The holy man will give the person absolution and grant the person a golden ticket to the happy place and they go to their deaths happy.
The other method was accepting your mythology about the happy place entirely and welcome it into your heart. This is commonly referred to in Christian Myth as being reborn. It serves the same purpose. If you accept that there is a "savior" in your myth and accept that "savior" as the one who would bail you out of the bad place then you'll go to the happy place or Heaven. Once again, if the person believes he is saved then the last thought he or she will have will be that they'll be going to a peaceful death.
To boil this all down in really simple terms, faith is spiritual and peace creating. Religion is used for control.
Does this mean that there is nothing to spirituality? No, I don't say that.
There are so many things that are unknown. Truly, if there is a God or a supreme being that is beyond religion and mythology, it is unknowable. Man will not know if there is life after death ever. We may believe from some parapsychologists that there is something that is beyond our regular perceptions and it may be true. However, we will never know for sure.
There may be more to our life force than what we know. We could be the ghosts in our own machines. We could be our past selves. If our beliefs in the happy place are strong enough they may go beyond what we know as physical death and continue on to a different place.
And who knows, it could be a happy place.
* - Or getting clubbed on the head. Or learning it as a New Englander and working on it as a Karl Rove ploy to get elected to US Presidency.