Sunday, January 10, 2010
Part of my life as a child is fear. I want to always be secure lest some powerful animal or person devours me. You see this exact picture in crying children hiding behind their parents when some stranger visits the home for the first time. Psychologically, although humans are distinct from other creatures in their complex mind, they share with them the innate need for survival. Religion in general responds to this fear by promising an eternal life of happiness. In an atheistic world, religion will still survive if only because of this. The crusading atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins recognized that religion continues to be a major force. And so did the atheist philosopher Daniel Dennett. Daniel Dennett in an interview with Robert Wright acknowledged that he cannot prove that God does not exist. The renowned 17th century philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in his Thoughts that it is better to live a virtuous life in this world since if God exists you will be rewarded in the next, and if He does not exist, you lose nothing. But if he exists and you lived a life of sin, you will find yourself in hell. This is an extraordinary insight that brings us to the discussion about God. According to some anthropologists, the very early tribes of humans in some native Indian cultures believed in the "Sky god." In ancient civilizations, Egyptian as well as Mesopotamian and Greek, people believed in God or gods according to their needs. There, based on archeological work, we find polytheist religions in multiple cultures. The basis of worship is fear and security - Fear of natural disasters and protection. Prayers are found directed to the Sun god to provide for agriculture and life. In the Aztic cultute, prayers were directed to Tlaloc the god for rain and fertility. Hindus in India developed their pantheist religions which, taken literally, mean that the universe is God. There were gods and higher gods, each with his or her role. The entire religious systems were ultimately based on survival of the tribe/culture. Better illustrated in the ancient Egyptian cults the pharoes, kings of Egypt, were buried in mummies with food and water in order to feed them in the next life. Sacrifice developed as an act of thanksgiving but also to avoid the vengeance of the gods. Abraham, the father of monotheism, is depicted in the Old Testament to have had a message from God. He lived in Ur (today in Iraq) but God revealed to him that he should go to Canaan and settle there. The detailed story of the father of Jews and Arabs alike shows that he was obedient and full of faith. God blessed him and promised him that his offspring will be of great number. In the Biblical tradition there is a development in the belief in one God (Yahweh). As much as the Bible is considered inspired by Christians, it is not dictated. The tradition of Israel developed over 2000 years. The books of the Old Testament were written over a period of some 1000 years. Contemporary Biblical scholars think that some of the stories were edited to reflect the understanding of the Hebrews that there is one God. The Old Covenant between God and Israel represented a special relationship in which God would protect and save Israel while Israel would worship God alone and abide by His commandments revealed to Moses. Many of these commandments are prhobitions for the survival of the community. Again, the key is survival. In Judaism, the image of God slowly but surely develops from an all-powerful One to a compassionate One. This is evident in the Psalms and Isaiah and more so in Hosea where God is said to speak as the faithful husband of Israel while Israel is His unfaithful bride. At last God is seen as a father of his people and not only as their majestic lord. The sense of security developed from fear to trust. The eventual coming of Christ was the epitome of God's self revelation. As Christians, we know we have seen God in Christ, not only the majestic divine, but also the suffering God whose love to his creatures made him dwell among us, suffer with us and die for us. In Christ, God made a new Covenant - a covenant of love. Fear is still there but now we can call God the Father our father as Christ taught us. Now we know that God's essense is love: The eternal love of the Father and the Son whose binding power is the Holy Spirit. The need for survival is now the need to be with Christ our saviour and God. St. Athanasius said "God became man so that man may become divine." I am not sure I learned it yet but the Church will teach me!