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The transparently anthropogenic, anthropomorphic origin of religion

 

A little travel and a little more reading quickly expose the diversity of religion and its roots.  We can only guess at the meaning of stone-age cave paintings in Australia and Europe but many of these seem to be religious in nature. 

On the other hand we have written records from ancient Egypt as old as 6000 BCE.  Scholars have deciphered a lot about Egyptian religious beliefs and their evolution over time; a period that is much longer than the existence of Christianity.  We can see in ancient Egypt the evolution of monotheism, as well as beliefs in judgement after death. 

Judaism and several other Mediterranean religions clearly evolved within the same framework as Egyptian beliefs modified by tribal identification, if not taken directly.  For example, Akhenaten was the monotheistic Pharaoh of the eighteenth dynasty of Egypt, who died 1336 BCE. Nefertiti, whose contemporary bust you can see in the Altes Museum in Berlin, was his chief wife. Akhenaten was not a true monotheist in the modern sense.  He simply saw the Sun as the preeminent god in the pantheon; allegiance to whom obviated the need to have any other.  Other gods existed but allegiance to them was to act in bad faith to the preferred god who alone was sufficient.

In the same way Abraham worshiped 'El Shaddai' (El of the mountain; also called El Elyon and Ishma-el). Abraham may have been a legendary warrior who led a wave of settlement into Canaan around 1850 BCE.   Between 600 to a thousand years later Moses was said to have given allegiance to 'The God of Abraham' and was given divine knowledge that He was named  'Yahweh'.  

 

prophet

 

Scholars identify these various incarnations with the 'High God of Canaan';  the god who descends during, or resides in, volcanoes. This was not an inappropriate God to select as preeminent among the gods.  The middle east is particularly geologically active. The Dead Sea Transform sits over the major tectonic plate boundary between the African and Arabian plates resulting in regular earthquakes.  There is a major subducting zone along the coast of Turkey resulting in around 20 volcanic eruptions across the region during the second millennium BCE. The largest of these, around 1610 BCE was when the volcanic island of Thera (Santorini) exploded; destroying the very advanced bronze age seafaring Minoan Civilisation; and changing the political power balance across the Mediterranean region.    

Egyptian writings record several large earthquakes during the period. 

In Roman and Greek theology the Volcano God Vulcan / Hephaestus is associated with fire; lightening; destruction; and male fertility;  but he is also associated with the new technology of metallurgy in the late bronze and early iron ages, that provided new tools and weapons and increasingly dominated middle east trade.

The High God of Canaan is particularly good at wiping out entire towns with pyroclastic flows and knocking down buildings.

And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that [was] in the camp trembled...
And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly...


And the LORD came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the LORD called Moses [up] to the top of the mount; and Moses went up...
And the LORD said unto him, Away, get thee down, and thou shalt come up, thou, and Aaron with thee: but let not the priests and the people break through to come up unto the LORD, lest he break forth upon them...
And God spake all these words, saying...Thou shalt have no other gods before me... You shall not make to you any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth...
Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God [am] a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth [generation] of them that hate me;
And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.  

Exodus 19-20

 

Thus the god of Moses is a jealous God who will not tolerate the others (that implicitly exist).

The son of Akhenaten was Tutankhamen a 'boy king' and the priests of the older polytheistic tradition took the opportunity to purge the followers of Aten and to abandon the new city Akhenaten had built in his name.  Monotheism was abandoned too, yet a number of scholars have argued that this is the real origin of Judaism (including Sigmund Freud, in his book Moses and Monotheism).  Although this theory is disputed (with one school suggesting the Egyptians copied the Jews!) there is general acknowledgement of the strong similarities between the Great Hymn to the Aten (the one God) and the Biblical Psalm 104. And several other elements of the Old Testament appear to have Egyptian roots; presumably due to the time in captivity in Egypt and to Moses. 

Biblical scholars now believe that the authors of the present torah wrote it at around the time of the Babylonian Exile during the 6th century BCE.  Evidence of its dating from this time includes that the Bible becomes largely consistent with archaeological evidence and contemporary records, as opposed to its largely unsupported and mythical accounts of earlier history.  Further, in addition to those of the Hebrew tribes and the Egyptians, the Bible draws on Babylonian writings and religious myths. For example, significant parts of Genesis; the legend of the Flood; and passages from Ecclesiastes; have been borrowed more or less intact from the much older Epic of Gilgamesh, mankind's oldest known work of poetic literature.   This epic was written around 1200 years before the Bible, not in Egypt but in in Ancient Mesopotamia.

The Babylonian Exile is supported by archaeology and is thought to have been the cause of the first Jewish Diaspora.

By the latter part of first millennium BCE Judaism was established in many cities across the middle east and more firmly monotheistic.  It now denied the very existence of any other gods. God was no longer taking human form and dropping-in on adherents  for a chat; perhaps in the company of an angle or two as he did in Abraham's time. God was now generally restricted to communicating through dreams and visions.

This was in stark contrast to the Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek and Roman conception where there was a full pantheon of specialist gods for various occasions; who often took human form or sired demi-gods; and where high achieving humans could graduate to the divine.

This pagan tradition of a pantheon is restored somewhat in the Christianity of the Middle Ages (around 400 CE) with concept of 'Communion of Saints' and of course with the divinity of the 'Mother of God' and sanctification in general.  Again Christians could pray to more than one specialist, or personal, being.

Christianity more transparently evolved from Judaism, modified by Roman and Greek religious beliefs and practice.  Christians were Jews until they were excluded from Synagogues between 85 and 90 AD for heresy, a rift reinforced by the Council of Yavne (Jamnia 90AD).  After this the two religions split and, like Protestants and Roman Catholics, set about vilifying each other.  Scholars believe that a substantial part of the New Testament was written (by Paul/Saul and the author of John, between 100 and 150 AD after the split), as these assert Christ’s divinity (not claimed in the early gospels). 

Islam clearly evolved from Judaism and Christianity overlaid with Arab tribal identification and the personal idiosyncrasies of the Prophet Mohammed.  This is very well documented and not disputed.  There is even an interesting display of his personal effects and writings that you can see for yourself in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.

Similarly, most eastern religions trace their origins to India.  In Europe, Christianity has adopted many pre-Christian cultural practices, including Easter and Christmas. 

It is reasonable to believe that it is the hand and mind of man, not of a God, that created and moulded these religions.

 

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Travel

Taiwan

 

 

 

In May 2015 four of us, Craig and Sonia Wendy and I, bought a package deal: eleven days in Taiwan and Hong Kong - Wendy and I added two nights in China at the end.  We had previously travelled together with Craig and Sonia in China; Russia, India and South America and this seemed like a good place to do it again and to learn more about the region.

Taiwan is one of the Four Asian Tigers, along with Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong, achieving the fastest economic growth on the Planet during the past half century. Trying to understand that success was of equal interest with any ‘new sights’ we might encounter.

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Fiction, Recollections & News

The Time Lord

 

 

 

For no apparent reason, the silver haired man ran from his companion, shook a tree branch, then ran back to continue their normal conversation. It was as if nothing had happened. The woman seemed to ignore his sudden departure and return.

Bruce had been stopped in peak hour traffic, in the leafy suburban street, and had noticed the couple walking towards him, engaged in good humoured argument or debate.  Unless this was some bizarre fit, as it seemed, the shaken tree branch must be to illustrate some point. But what could it be?

Just as the couple passed him, the lights up ahead changed and the traffic began to move again. 

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Opinions and Philosophy

Population and Climate Change – An update

 

 

Climate

 

I originally wrote the paper, Issues Arising from the Greenhouse Hypothesis, in 1990 and do not see a need to revise it substantially.  Some of the science is better defined and there have been some minor changes in some of the projections; but otherwise little has changed.

In the Introduction to the 2006 update to that paper I wrote:

Climate change has wide ranging implications...  ranging from its impacts on agriculture (through drought, floods, water availability, land degradation and carbon credits) mining (by limiting markets for coal and minerals processing) manufacturing and transport (through energy costs) to property damage resulting from storms.

The issues are complex, ranging from disputes about the impact of human activities on global warming, to arguments about what should be done and the consequences of the various actions proposed.

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