Outline of Logos 1: A Brief history of God
(lecture by Piero Scaruffi)


The slides are here

Bibliography
Alan Segal: Life After Death (2004)
Alberto Siliotti: The Dwellings of Eternity (2000)
Mircea Eliade: A History of Religious Ideas (1982)
Joseph Campbell: The Masks of God (1959)


A brief History of Life
Earliest Art
What Early Humans Knew
Burial
70,000 BC: burial of man in Shanidar Cave 4 in northern Iraq over a bed of flowers (Neanderthal)
First elaborate tombs and cult of the dead when non-nomadic communities form
3,500-3,000 BC: monumental tombs (Abydos-Egypt, Ur-Mesopotamia, Liangthu-China, New Grange-Ireland)
What Early Humans Knew
Prehistoric beliefs (before 3,500 BC)
The Earth was separated from Heaven
Natural world pervaded by supernatural forces
There is an Afterlife for some people
What Early Humans Knew
The rise of religious institutions
Ultimate goal: control of nature
Humans can control nature through the spirits that control nature
First "gods": sun, rain, fertility (the most important aspects for survival of the species)
The Origins of Civilization
Mesopotamia
Sumeria
Mesopotamia
The Elohim
The world is surrounded, permeated and ruled by the Elohim, myriads of nameless supernatural beings (spirits) inseparable from one another
Mesopotamia
Assembly of gods
A religion for this life, not for the afterlife
Anthropomorphic gods, associated with the forces of nature (wind, months)
Each city is the property of a deity
Deification of kings
Unified pantheon

Mesopotamia
Evolution of theocracy: gods migrate from nature to politics (4000-3000 BC)
Farming economy
Domestic/foreign policy
Mesopotamia
Evolution of theocracy/ Economics
Irrigation requires cooperation because river beds tend to change
Changing river beds cause expanded irrigation
Expanding irrigation causes expanding settlements
The whims of rivers are ascribed to gods
Thus priests are natural arbiters of the community
Priests are natural arbiters of the economic surplus
Temples become administration buildings
The irrigation society naturally creates city-states, and such city-states are naturally theocracies
Mesopotamia
Evolution of theocracy/ Politics
Ancient times: a nature religion of spirits/forces (sky, wind, river, etc)
Non-human forms are then replaced by human forms (that can be represented visually)
Human-like deities begin to behave like human beings
The world of natural phenomena becomes a model of the human world

Mesopotamia
Evolution of theocracy/II
Deities become an aristocracy, and humans their servants
Deities come to be worshipped like aristocracy, in abodes (temples) with servants (priests) and household chores (rituals)
Mesopotamia
Evolution of theocracy/III
Deities come to be identified with the political leaders of the community/city/nation
Each city comes to be dominated by a deity, and cities often grow around the main temple
The main deity of a city becomes a virtual ruler of the city, defending it against enemies and enforcing justice within the city
Will of the deities communicated to the human rulers via dreams, omens, natural events
Mesopotamia
Evolution of theocracy/IV
The deity is no longer related to natural phenomena but to human phenomena, i.e. politics

Mesopotamia
Ziggurat
Royal palace subordinate to the ziggurat
The temple (not the palace) is the identity of the people of the city
The destruction of a temple is a catastrophe
Egypt
Map of Egypt
Egypt
Obsession with the afterlife
Everything in this life is functional to the after life
The entire economy of the state revolves around the preparation for the king's afterlife
Egypt
Obsession with the afterlife
Palaces (pharaohs) are comfortable but negligible (mud bricks and wood)
Tombs must be monumental and eternal (today we visit tombs, not palaces, Giza not Memphis)
The best furniture is for the tomb, not for the palace
Egypt
Tomb not as the resting place of the dead, but as the instrument by which death can be overcome, a place of connection with the heavens and the afterlife
Death as the gateway to eternal life
Death = immortality
Egypt
Gods behave like humans: mythology not theology
Each city is dedicated to a god and has its own "religion"
Supreme god: Re/ Sun
The pharaoh is the intermediary between gods and humans (son of the Sun god)
Egypt
Middle Kingdom (22nd c.BC-17th c.BC)
Osiris replaces Re, promising eternal life to everybody
"Osiris' mysteries" recount the death and resurrection of Osiris
Babylonia
Map of Babylonia
Babylonia
Astral religion (1800 BC - 600 BC)
Gods identified with planets (Marduk=Jupiter, Ishtar=Venus)
Gods lose their "human" attributes
Gods are inscrutable
Humans can only have faith
Humans have sinned
Humans are depraved beings
Persia
Map of Persia
Persia
Mazdaism
Originates among the peaceful, sedentary communities of northern Iran (Zoroaster's "Asha" or "people of righteousness"), constantly threatened by the raids of nomadic horsemen who practice animistic polytheism (Zoroaster's "Druj" or "people of the lie")
Persia
Mazdaism
Two contrary gods: Ahura Mazda (also Ormuzd), the creator god who is full of light and good, and Ahriman, the god of dark and evil
Dualist: separates good and evil (Egyptian and Mesopotamian gods were capable of both good and evil)
Ahura-Mazda is not responsible for evil
Does not have a face (no painting, no statue)
Does not live anywhere
Persia
Mazdaism
Heretic to build temples (all Achemenian buildings were secular)
Persia
Zarathustra/ Zoroaster (b 628BC)
Ahura originally referred to 33 ruling gods in ancient, pre-Zoroastrian religions in Persia and India
Zoroaster preached against all the other gods except Ahura Mazda
Spiritual, immaterial God
Monotheism
Persia
Zarathustra/ Zoroaster (b 628 BC)
A revealed religion (God revealed the truth to some people)
Eschatological (at the end of time, a messiah will come)
Frasho-Kereti ("Rehabilitation"): apocalyptic ending/judgement that takes place on Earth
Ristaxez: resurrection of the body
Hell (but only temporary: everybody eventually is "saved" by Ahura-Mazda)
Persia
Zurvan (500 BC): Source of time, father of both Mazda and Ahriman
Mithras (300 BC): Chief lieutenant of Mazda
Judaism
Map of Israel
Judaism
Stage 1: Stage of the elohim, and one "el" is the el of Abraham
Stage 2: El the nomadic god of the Jews
God of the Jews
Nomadic God (not tied to a sanctuary but "god of the father")
God talks
God of punishment and wrath
Negative god ("thou shalt not")
Religion is obedience to God
God = Consciousness
Indifference towards unbelievers

Judaism
Stage 3: Yahweh/YHWH the human-like god of the Jews - Moses (1,275 BC)
Not transcendent: a bodily god
Not infinitely good: capable of both good and evil
Not infallible: makes mistakes
Not omnipotent: his power is limited to the land occupied by the Jews
Not spiritual: the reward is material reward for this life, not for the afterlife
Judaism
Stage 4: Yahweh/El the only god, a faceless god
Elijah (875 BC): El
There are many gods, but El is the only god of Israel ("El Elohe Yisrael", Gen. 33:20)
Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah (8th/6th c BC)
El and Yahweh become synonymous
Monotheism: Yahweh is the ONLY god (the gods of the other nations do not exist)
Omnipotent god
Just god
Yahweh is an inscrutable god, no longer concerned with the problems of the Jews
Judaism
Prophets
Ancient Mesopotamia: divination, sorcery, augury, soothsaying
Ecstatic visions
Foretelling the future in the form of divine revelations
Interpreting natural events as divine messages
Interested only in events that affected the royalty
Totally indifferent to ordinary people
Judaism
Prophets
Biblical prophets
Advocated a higher form of morality and justice
Obsessed with rejecting idolatry
Progression towards ethical monotheism
Addressing the "people" of Israel
Addressing "all nations"

Judaism
Prophets
Zoroastrian influence
Apocalyptic (End of the world)
Eschatological (Resurrection of the Dead)
Messianic (the Messiah)
Dualistic (Satan)
Judaism
An immortal religion
Not a people that chose a god, but a God who chose a people
The only religion that survived the destruction of its kingdom
China/Zhou
Map of Yellow River valley
China/Zhou
Pseudo-monotheism: Heaven/Tien
The universe is a single whole/organism
But divided in three main realms:
Heaven (omnipotent)
Earth (Nature)
Human society
Polytheism: the world is inhabited by a multitude of spirits (one for each natural phenomenon) and ghosts
The supernatural is natural
China/Zhou
No creation myth: no need to explain the universe, no need to explain where the Chinese race came from
Religion is natural philosophy: no holy wars, crusades, jihad, etc, no fear of damnation, no anxiety of salvation, no prophets, no dogmas
China/Zhou
Confucius: Philosophy of social organization
Social harmony
Calculated behavior
Lao-tzu (Daoism): Philosophy of Nature
Harmony with nature
Spontaneous behavior
China/Zhou
Daoism
The fundamental pattern is the cycle
The cycle is due to the interplay of yin and yang
Contraries are aspects of the same thing
"Dao" (empty void of infinite potential) is the supreme being
"Qi" is vital energy in constant flux that arises from the "Dao"
Matter = energy (matter "is" Qi)
Hinduism/ Vedas
Map of Indus Valley
Hinduism/ Vedas
Problem of evil
Karma of the person causes apurva that causes good/evil to the person
Misfortune is caused by prior wrongful deeds (is not only deserved but even required)
Causality is a loop from the individual back to the individual
Cosmic justice is totally independent of gods
Hinduism/ Vedas
Gods
Semitic gods had no names and were a crowd, Indo-Aryan gods had names and were individuals
Varuna supreme god, but Indra most popular (the idealized warrior), followed by Surya (sun god) and his wife Ushas and Agni (the fire god)
Mesopotamia gods: protectors of the city-state
Indo-Aryan gods: forces of nature
Deities as vehicles of "the" force (of the ultimate self-controlling logic of the universe)
Greece
Map of Greece
Greece
Afterlife
Indifferent to afterlife
Hades: not punishment or reward, simply a place (underworld) where the dead go
Immortality via
Heroism
Family
Greece
Greek religion
Gods did not create the world, they only conquered it thanks to their powers
Powerful but not omnipotent gods
Gods are capable of evil (Homeric poems, tragedies)
Oracles
Sanctuaries: Delphi (Apollo), Olympia (Zeus)
Greece
Religion as rational superstition
Gods have no effect on the working of the universe.
Thus Science and Religion never contradict each other
No organized church
Priests (oracles) are mere interpreters between gods and humans
No theocracy: powerless "priests"
Priestly duties were duties of every good citizen, just like many other duties
Greece
Heroism
Humans are halfway between beasts and gods
Heroism is a titanic struggle to become more divine than human
Greece
Cults of immortality outside mainstream religion
Eleusinian mysteries
Dionysian mysteries
Orphic mysteries
Greece
Eleusinian mysteries
Eleusis' sanctuary built in 15th c BC
Most important religious festivals
Lasted for 2,000 years
Four stages in the revelation of the mysteries
Demeter's search through the underworld for her daughter Persephone, abducted by Hades
Demeter as the bringer of immortality to humankind
Greece
Cult of Dionysus/Bacchus
Legend: Zeus resurrected his (Zeus') son Dionysus (born of a god and a mortal) and created the human race from the ashes of his assassins, the Titans
Dionysus has both a divine and a human nature
His death and resurrection saves humans
Dionysus died each winter and was reborn in the spring
During the orgy the human soul becomes one with the god
Greece
Orphic mysteries
Mystery: humans have a dual nature: the earthly body (which comes from the Titans and feels pain) and the divine soul (which comes from Dionysus and leads to ecstasy)
After death, people who lived in evil will be punished, while the souls of people who lived in holiness will be completely liberated from Titanic elements and reunited with Dionysus
Orphism vs Bacchism: purification instead of orgy, permanent instead of temporary union of soul and god, immortality instead of mortality
Rome
Map of Roman Empire
Rome
Roman vs Greek religion
A religion for the protection of the state, not of the individual
Morality = patriotism
Roman gods did not quarrel
Roman gods did not mingle with humans
Priestly class reporting to the king/emperor
Romans not interested in individual immortality
Immortality via the state: the Roman Empire is eternal
Respect for all gods of all conquered nations

BREAK
Still to come
Upanishad
Buddhism
Christianity
Islam
Did "god" mean the same thing to different civilizations
Memetics of religion
Why do humans believe in God?
Hinduism/ Upanishads
Map of India 500BC
Hinduism/ Upanishads
Salvation
Salvation is liberation from suffering
Salvation is achieved by transcending the human condition
Nothing has changed in the world: it is the individual's state of mind that has changed
Hinduism/ Upanishads
Salvation
Brahman: the absolute, the soul of the world
Atman: the divine within the self, the soul of the individual
Union of the individual soul ("atman") with the universal soul ("brahman")
Hinduism/ Upanishads
Salvation
Maya: the multiplicity of the world as an illusion of the senses
Moksha: liberation from maya and experience of the brahman
Yoga: a method for salvation, of union of brahman and atman, of experiencing the divine within the self
Hinduism/ Upanishads
Brahman
The ultimate cosmic principle
The first cause of the universe
The source of existence
Pure knowledge
Eternal, infinite, and conscious being
It is the subject, not the object, of thought
Brahman "is" the self (atman) of all beings
Hinduism/ Upanishads
Brahman
Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu the Sustainer and Shiva the Destroyer
Buddhism
Buddha
Buddhism
Nirvana
Suffering (existential suffering) is inherent in all living beings
Nirvana (state of complete liberation) via practice and enlightenment
Nirvana = no more rebirths
Salvation lies in eternal death, not eternal life
Buddhism
Nirvana
Four-fold negation of nirvana:
it is not true that we exist or do not exist,
and it is not true that we both exist and not exist,
and it is not true that we neither exist nor do not exist
i.e. nothing can be said about nirvana
Buddhism
Dharma
No atman: no enduring consciousness, consciousness is a substance not a being
Personal identity through time does not consist of a self that is continuously reborn but of a continuity of karma
Dharmas (elements of existence) do exist
Nothing exists for any period of time (no duration to dharmas, dharmas are momentary)
Each moment is an entirely new existence
Buddhism
Atheism
No god: no Brahman
No soul to start with
Gods are not creators of the universe, and cannot influence human life. They are subject to the same cycle of rebirth.
Enlightenment is actually possible only for humans.
Christianity
Sindone
Christianity
A religion of slaves
When Jesus was born, half of the population of the western world were slaves
Early Christians were mostly slaves

Christianity
God
Only one God for everybody
Nameless
God dwells in Heaven (Paradise)
God is omnipotent, omniscient, infinitely good
Christianity
Salvation
God created humans to live in a new paradise
Humans used free will to disobey God (Adam's original sin) and are now condemned to Hell
The original sin is inherited by all humans
Humans cannot change their destiny
Humans can be saved only by divine grace
Salvation has been secured for humans by Jesus
Salvation is obtained by faith in Jesus alone
Christianity
Christianity vs Judaism
Universality
Positive god ("thou shall") instead of the negative god of Judaism ("thou shall not")
God of love (New Testament) vs God of wrath (Old Testament)
Eternal damnation for unbelievers
Acceptance, not rebellion
Hermits (ascetism) and monks (piety)

Christianity
Christianity vs Graeco-Roman religion
The individual, not the state
Charity instead of gifts to the gods
Equality of all humans


Christianity
Christianity vs Hinduism/Buddhism
Linear progression of time instead of cycles
Jesus' bodily miracles vs Buddha's mental miracles (a more materialistic view of life)
The individual is responsible for her damnation but not for her salvation
Christianity
Christianity vs older religions
A religion of the You not just the I
Self-sacrifice vs human sacrifices


Christianity
An imperial religion/ The era of monotheism
St Paul
Constantine
Christianity
Religious tyranny
Rationality replaced by superstition
Virtue replaced by faith (the only virtue)
Justice in this world replaced with justice in the next world
Free exercise of reason replaced with obedience to Christian dogma
Greek tolerance for foreign faiths replaced by Christian intolerance
Christianity
Impure monotheism
Trinity: one God in three persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit)
Virgin Mary
Saints
Islam
Islam = submission (to God)
Muslim = subject
Prophet = messenger
Manicheist idea of a succession of revelations given to different peoples
Quran: God's revelation as received by Mohammed
Moses, Jesus, etc were "Muslims"
Old Testament and New Testament (with variants) are also God's revelation
Islam
Pure monotheism
No idol worship
No priestly mediation between believer and God

Islam
Islamic theocracy
Political nature of the Quran
Jihad
First religion to be the raison d'etre of an empire
No major wars fought over religion before Islam

Summarizing...
Did "god" mean the same thing to different civilizations?
Ancient Semitic: protector
Ancient Egyptian: eternity for the king
Modern Egyptian: eternity for everybody
Indo-European: forces of nature
GraecoRoman: powerful human-like
Vedas: powerful human-like
Upanishad: "the" force
Modern Semitic: perfect, eternal, infinite, omnipotent, GOOD being
Judaism: God of the Jews
Christianity/ Islam: God of all humans
Summarizing...
Did "god" mean the same thing to different civilizations?
Chinese: Heaven
Hinduism: God cannot be comprehended
Buddhism and Confucianism: God is irrelevant
Daoism: "God" is Nature
Memetics of Religion
Religions are metaphors
They were written as metaphors and they were understood as metaphors

Today we live in the age of the literal (science)
Religions are understood as literal
Therefore rational westerners repudiate the Bible, which is difficult to believe literally

Ancestral thought was metaphorical
Literal thinking is a modern invention
Memetics of Religion
Where did god live?
Mesopotamia: Assembly of the god in Nippur
Egypt: Sun, Underworld
China: Heaven
India: ?
Judaism: follows the Jews
Greece: Mt Olympus
Rome: Woods
Christianity/Islam: Paradise
God as a cognitive faculty
Why do humans believe in God?
Where is God in your brain?
Where is the mental correlate of the mystical experience?
God as a cognitive faculty
It is easier for humans to believe in miracles than in Einstein's Relativity or in Quantum Mechanics
Proof of the existence of God: one can "feel" it (whereas one cannot "feel" Einstein's spacetime or Heisenberg's uncertainty principle)
Hallucinogenic drugs help achieve the mystical experience
Collective hysteria helps achieve the mystical experience
God as a cognitive faculty
What do collective hysteria and hallucinogenic drugs have in common?
They paralyze parts of the brain, so that perception is reduced and the ability to perform reasoning is even further reduced.
They close, not open, the "doors of perception"
That "is" the mystical state
God as a cognitive faculty
Triune brain
God as a cognitive faculty
Triune brain
God as a cognitive faculty
God is a remnant of a pre-human state of existence, one in which humans were not "sapiens"
One can grasp the sense of God by returning to the mental state of primitive hominids
All apes believe in God, because their brain is permanently in the state in the "mystical state"
All lower mammals, that do not have the neo-cortex and our cognitive faculties, may "feel" God
God as a cognitive faculty
The mystical experience is achieving by (generally speaking) switching off the neocortex
The mystical experience is achieving by behaving like a mammal or a reptilian
God as a cognitive faculty
Religion may simply be an evolutionary leftover, governed by the older (irrational) parts of the brain and superseded by reason whenever we let the newer (rational) part of the brain take over
Humans believe in miracles because the human brain is genetically programmed to believe in miracles
Humans do not believe in Relativity of Quantum Mechanics because the human brain is not genetically programmed to believe (instinctively) in it
God as a cognitive faculty
Three fundamental "religious" beliefs:
1. That gods created the universe;
2. That humans are entitled to an afterlife;
3. That pleasing the gods will make the afterlife more pleasant and even eternal.
Is this due to the interaction of the new rational brain with the older irrational brain?
God as a cognitive faculty
Chimpanzees throw leaves and branches over the dead.
God as a cognitive faculty
What is unique about humans is the elaborate rituals (involving dancing, chanting, drumming, funeral processions, masses for the dead, decorated tombs, etc)
A brief History of God?
A brief History of God?

Slides


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