Tuesday, September 9, 2014

And you thought keeping track of all the Catholic saints was tricky!





Among The Host of Heaven: The Syro-Palestenian Pantheon as Bureaucracy - Lowell K. Handy (1994)


            People tend to view history with a severe case of tunnel vision.  They only want to know what they are told once. They assume what they are told is the truth for everyone at all times.  Religion is the worst in this, as followers live and die based on the faulty ideas taught by those who wish to control them.
            Many people live under the opinion that the Judeo-Christian ideas of the soul, the creator, and the afterlife are distilled truths, arrived at by countless centuries of thought and theological ideas.  Because of this, they fail to see that humans create their own gods and imbue them with the traits most evident in their earthly societies.   The Judeo-Christian god, YHVH, Jehovah, God, etc. is a dictator.  His word is law.  There is, in Hebrew history, an idea that he ruled over a host of angels and powers and such, but his word was EVERYTHING. This arose from the society that created it.  It was a patriarchal society led by one man, a king, whose word was law and in whom the whole of their existence depended.  Their god mirrors this.

This is what seagulls imagine their Messiah looks like.


            The writers of this book seek to study the much earlier gods of the Syrian/Palestinian people whose civilization flourished hundreds of years before the Hebrews left Egypt.  Not as much is known about their culture apart from their religion.  This book shines a light on their society by analyzing the structure of their deities.  Cool stuff.  By analyzing the existing information and texts, the writers show how the incredible bureaucracy inherent in the Syro-Palestinian pantheon of gods must have mirrored the bureaucratic structure of their actual society.
            While the information contained in the book is cool, the book itself is very academic and not much of an engrossing read.  It was a bit of a slog to get through, especially since it was my first in-depth introduction to these specific deities and the culture around them.  Having said that, it is still a cool way to do some ethnographic research - working from the structure of the religion to the structure of the society.  So much of human history is tied into the people’s belief systems.  I wonder what human researchers in the far future will see when they study our current society and its didactic religions.  On the one hand, many claim that God is love, and Mohammed is love, and Buddha is love, etc.  All well and good, but the same religions breed people that are violent, warlike, destructive, and enslaved in constant class struggle.
            Christians used to treat the Devil almost in a Manichean manner, where his powers were constantly at odds with God’s.  Nowadays, most believers see the Devil as a minor irritant to an omnipresent, omnipotent God, if they think of him at all.  This of course is not what fundamentalists believe.  By their very nature, fundamentalists avoid any progress or evolution of their beliefs, sticking to what they feel is the “original” way to worship.  All beliefs evolve from previous beliefs, even if those previous ones were forgotten long, long ago.

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