Lightmind Extract 052


Broken Yogi 12.9.07
It seemed the Greeks and even Romans were searching for a genuine religion, as indicated by their fascination with mystery cults… these were not domestic, Greek or Roman, cults, but cults of Mithra, Baal, Isis, Orpheus, Dionysus, Attis, and Jesus. It seems that the Greeks and Romans could not take their own polytheistic pantheon very seriously, and so sought for a real religion, which one could say is the “omega point” of their civilization. Without it, they would have created their own Jesus, and indeed they did.

Everyone’s searching for a genuine religion. Few find one. Few Christians seem to take their religion seriously when it comes down to it. Those who do, unfortunately, don’t seem very popular with other Christians. What historical Christians seem to take seriously has little to do with Christianity also, so there’s that.

Polytheism is not meant to be taken terribly seriously. The problem with the monotheistic middle-eastern cults of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is that they are prone to fanatical seriousness of a highly dangerous nature. More so with the latter two of course. Which is why I think the West might have been better off without them. Polytheism is more true to life in any case, and the central falsehood of monotheism lends itself to massive repression of our total desiring nature as a consequence, leading to terrible cognitive dissonance and distortion of our reasoning powers. Again, see Nietzsche. So we end up in the West with this massive tendency towards exclusive, totalitarian cults, like Christianity and Islam, that lock out huge parts of the human character and life.

Part of the problem is that the West is not East, and Christianity and Islam are not really western religions, but middle-eastern religions that mutated into pathological hybrids. Both are essentially plagues on humanity. Christianity less so, but its grip on the West has been enormously costly, and we are just getting out from under it. Even the Greeks were influenced by the east, just not so pathologically. They retained the basic polytheistic spirit of the west, a love of multiplicity and life, pleasure and happiness. I’d imagine that western religion without Judaism, Christianity, and Islam would have developed into a fairly healthy paganism, with of course the usual brutalities, but not under the table, so to speak, as Nietzschean resentement, but plain old above the board crudeness. Over time, I see that refining itself into basic notions of justice and democracy, as in the Greek model, or the Roman republic. And, as you note, these dudes were still inventing new Gods, and Jesus was in part one of those Gods, but unfortunately mixed up with a whole otherworldy anti-life eastern cult ideology that ill-suited westerners until Constantine came along and turned it into an imperial religion that was about leading the sheep to slaughter. Without that whole Jesus-Jewish mixture, they might have come up with a more suitable God, like Apollonius of Tyana mixed with Dionysus. The mystical mystery religions of Elutheus and neo-Platonism, Plotinus and his disciples, are what inspired the best of the Christian mystic traditions anyway. Dionysus the Areopagite, for example. So something like that probably would have developed a wider following and expanded into a religion not so hobbled by monotheistic fanaticism as Christianity and Islam.

Monotheism has basically been a curse. But perhaps it’s a necessary rite of evil that the world has had to go through in order to pass on through to a more lively form of mysticism as is now developing. I’m quite glad its nearly over. The Islamic jihadists and the Christian fundies are part of the same dying virus we have been slowly developing antibodies for. I think it may take another century or two for the whole of monotheism to collapse, including Islam and Judaism. But they are certainly fading ot, and science is replacing them on the material level, and polytheistic mysticism on the religious level. People can call it “new age” if they like, but it’s just “anything but monotheism” when it comes down to it.

I agree with you contra Edward Gibbons, who believes Christianity is one of the major reasons Rome fell. Anyhow, we must consider that Rome fell in the 14th century, not the 4th, if we are to count the Eastern Empire of Constantinople as Rome.

I think Christianity hastened Rome’s fall, but it was going to happen in any case. Nothing lasts forever, and they had a decent run at things. Fallen or not, it changed Rome into something else entirely, so it’s better to say that Rome fell with Constantine, and the bones just hung on for a while longer.

Without Judaism, there would have been no Islam,
How so?

The primary tenet of Islam is that Allah is the same God as Yahweh of the old Testament, and that Mohammad is his final and greatest prophet. This is why Muslims are so touchy about insisting that Jews, Christians, and Muslims all worship the same God. Just as Christians are pissed at Jews for not accepting Jesus as the fulfillment of Jewish scriptures, the Muslims are pissed at both of them for not accepting Mohammad and the Koran. They also consider Jesus a true Prophet, but not the son of God, and not the final prophet either. So Islam is built upon Judaism, just as Christianity is, and Muslims respect the Jews as “people of the Book”. Take away Judaism then, and you have no Islam. Or you just have another form of desert mysticism that doesn’t really go anywhere. Islam rode the monotheistic coattails of Judaism just like Christianity did.

Are you seriously telling me you didn’t know this?

The problem is that Romans and Greeks didn’t take their religions very seriously.

In some ways, yes, and that’s a good thing. Taking religion too seriously ends up causing major problems, as we see with Jews, Christians, and Muslims. They really think they each have the final and absolute truth, and ought to either die for it, or kill everyone else for it. Lighten up, is what they ought to do.

How can there be a more advanced ethical system than that of the Jews and Christians?

I really appreciate your sense of humor sometimes.

I doubt there would be anything like science or reason without Christianity…

Neither science nor reason were invented by Christianity, and the best examples of it in the west in ancient times were the Greeks, not the Christians, who had no use for reason other than to prove that Christianity was the one and final truth. It wasn’t until the classical culture began to reawaken in Europe that science began to develop into a real discipline, and Christianity began to shuffle off into the loony bin where it belonged.

How would European ethics improve if they adopted more Greek than Judaic concepts?

I think the most important difference would spring from polytheism, the notion that there are many possible answers to ethical questions rather than one absolute right and wrong. There would be no ten commandments of thou shalts and thou shalt nots, but a more complex and realistic notion of judgment and ethics. Of course, Judaism did begin to develop that way in the diaspora, with the mishnah and Jewish law getting very complex. But that’s really the result of outside influences, particularly Greek, seeping in.

Greek ethics were also very complex, but not given over to the monotheistic illusions of black and white right and wrong, which Christianity in particular fostered. They didn’t possess the idea of an infallible God, but a God who could make mistakes and change his mind. This makes it possible to reform tradition much easier, and to do away with old habits that have outlived their usefulness. It’s harder to create an absolutist state, or a ruler who is Divinely anointed and who thus has absolute power, as in Christianity. It’s more amenable to a tolerant outlook, since polytheism is inherently tolerant of more than one god, and is thus able to absorb ideas from the outside without feeling threatened or having to hide the influence away. In general, I think a Greek west would have been a lot more mature and sensible than Christianity made it.



4 Responses to “Lightmind Extract 052”

  1. 1 marmalade

    “Polytheism is not meant to be taken terribly seriously. The problem with the monotheistic middle-eastern cults of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is that they are prone to fanatical seriousness of a highly dangerous nature.”

    This reminds me of a comment about Campbell.

    THE FIRE IS IN THE MIND, David Miller

    “From the beginning of his scholarly career to the end, Campbell insisted, as he put it already in 1949 in Hero with a Thousand Faces, that “humor is the touchstone of the trully mythological as distinct from the more literal-minded and sentimental theological [and fairy tale] mood” [180]. In the same work he spoke of “the sophistication of the humor of the imagery inflected in a skillful mythological rendition” [178]. Again he said, all great myths are humorous [Hero 361]. Similar remarks may be found in Oriental Mythology [149] and in the Historical Atlas [2.1.111]. And to Bill Moyers he said: “The imagery of mythology is rendered with humor” [Power of Myth, 220]. The point is that the serious dogmatism in religion, the ideology in culture, and the literalism in historiography are smashed by myth, which, though dealing with powerful ideas and meanings, is after all merely myth. It is fiction, story, and hypothesis misread as biography, science and history, as Campbell insisted. Myth is mythoclastic, when it is functioning truly as myth.”

    This quote relates to literalist interpretations of religion, and Monotheism seems more literalist than polytheism. Rationality may be the direct opposing force to religious literalism. But I like the idea of humor being the opposing force to the seriousness of religious literalism. This cuts to the heart of literalism. If you could make a literalist laugh about their religion, then you’ve broken through their psychological armor.

    But this is true when you make anyone laugh. Its just that some religious types could use a good laugh more than most people.

    “Greek ethics were also very complex, but not given over to the monotheistic illusions of black and white right and wrong, which Christianity in particular fostered.”

    If the Greeks had started questioning the literalism of their own myths(and the Romans had adopted this), then how did such a literalist religion such as Christianity arise out of that? Why did literalism become stronger before becoming weaker with modernism?

    Maybe it wasn’t Christianity that brought down Rome, but Christian literalism. Literalism hampers free thought. A government that became hampered likewise would be bound not to last long. The strength of Rome was their seeking out other religions, and their downfall was when they finally thought they found the right one.

  2. 2 muddypractice

    Wow, thanks for the brilliant comment, marmalade.

    I especially love the point about humor perhaps presenting a better opposing force to religious literalism than does rationality. Rationality, of course, often carries with it its own stamp of humorlessness; whereas humor has a way of slashing through and breaking up situations which threaten to be strangled by rigid concepts and assumptions. And although psychological armor is not to be underestimated, a well-aimed stab of humor can shatter said armor like little else can…

    Many contemporary spiritual teachers invoke the superego as posing a significant obstacle to deeper realization and breakthroughs, and doubtless one of the salient characteristics of the superego is its humorlessness. From the perspective of the superego (and “ego” in many senses of the word, as well) everything is VERY SERIOUS BUSINESS.

    It seems that often when people describe meeting their spiritual teachers for the first time, they are surprised by how light-hearted their teachers are, and by the infectious sense of humor that plays a big part in their presences. Sharon Salzberg relates a story about the first time she met Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche, and how she expected him to be a solemn, imposing figure. Instead, she walked into a room that “was alive and vibrant with Khenpo laughing, teasing and playing with the children. The moment I saw him a constriction in my heart eased, one that I hadn’t even realized was there. He looked up at me, and as soon as our eyes met I felt I’d come home. The light I sensed coming out of him was brighter than even the most extravagant color of the walls surrounding us…”

    To cite another example from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, (and for that I apologize; it just happens to be the one with which arguably I am most familiar) Ngawang Zangpo, in his book “Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times”, describes the nature of the early interactions between Tibetan teachers and Western students: “They have had to confront in their new students many non-conducive attitudes, such as distrust, self-seriousness, and solemnity, but they disarmed and relaxed us with their light humor, gentle warmth, and sincere concern (or love, to be more precise). Not only did they bring Guru Rinpoche into our lives, they made it seem that the most natural, clear headed, and light-hearted thing to do is to discover eternal Guru Rinpoche within ourselves…”

    There is also a chapter in Chogyam Trungpa’s “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism”, entitled “Sense of Humor”, that I think is excellent.

    At any rate, I would wager that this pervasive over-solemnity among Westerners owes a great deal to the monotheistic traditions and the resulting cultures which took on their influence.

    Your speculations concerning ancient Greece and Rome are provocative, as well, but I don’t feel erudite enough on those subjects to offer much in the way of intelligent comment!

    Anyhow, cheers!

  3. 3 marmalade

    “If the Greeks had started questioning the literalism of their own myths(and the Romans had adopted this), then how did such a literalist religion such as Christianity arise out of that? Why did literalism become stronger before becoming weaker with modernism?”

    I’m not an expert on history, but I enjoy history as it relates to religion. I have a book by Karen Armstrong titled The Great Transformation. Its about the Axial Age which is an idea Jaspers originated. There was an era around 500 BCE when a world-wide shift occurred. Buddhism arose, Confucianism and Taoism took hold, Hinduism and Judaism had major shifts in their religious outlooks. Christianity(or rather early Christianity) was a late flowering of this Axial Age… and apparently was also one of the nails in the coffin.

    All this great thought arose simultaneously everywhere and then died out for unexplained reasons. Tarnas gives an explanation for the cause of the Axial Age in his book Cosmos and Psyche which I highly recommend even if you aren’t normally interested in astrology or history. Anyways, these Axial Age ideas have formed the bedrock of civilization ever since. And we seem to be waiting for the next Axial Age to happen… some are hoping it will be called the Integral Age… and I wish them the best of luck.

  4. 4 muddypractice

    Nice, thanks for the book recommendation…

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