Primitive religious feelings were of an animist, cosmic, polytheist mystical nature. The absurdity of death, the sexual impulses, the dramatic powerlessness in the face of incomprehensible natural events (drought, hurricanes, floods, epidemics), greed and the scarcity of natural resources induced cruelty and egoism. The gallows of the West, the tortures of the East and Near East, the Amerindian torture poles, the gory religious sacrifices of the Aztecs and Mayas, the human sacrifices of the Semites (Abraham, Baal, see Jg.11, 34-39. and 2R 3, 27, indicating that it was common practice) testify that primitive religious and social attitudes were unkind. The most refined torture of the Achemenids (Darius, Cyrus, Xerxes) was to enclose the condemned into a tight coffin, only his head extruding to allow his feeding. His face was smeared with honey, which drew flies. These laid eggs. He was kept in the coffin with his own excrements until the larvae and worms had eaten him up. Death occurred after about 25 days. Jesus was killed at age 33 by crucifixion. Crucifixion was designed to provoke a slow death with a maximum of suffering. The weight of the body pulling on the extended nailed arms and on the shoulders immobilizes the muscles of the thoracic cage. On each respiration, the crucified person needs to stand on his nailed feet and lift his body on his nailed wrists into an exhausting torment that ends eventually in asphyxia. Crucifixion is among the cruelest tortures ever invented.
With such a mentality, progress in civilization is hardly possible, even if the intelligence of the people is not in question.
The problem was answered in two ways. On one side, it is man himself who, through his own mystical endeavors, improves his humanity. On the other, a prophet speaking for God shows the path to civilized behavior. A third ideal way is to be simultaneously a prophet and a mystic.
The perception of the Truth and communion with the Divine may proceed from Man himself in a mystical endeavor that leads to various stages of sanctity, until the Nirvana is reached. In India, the Aryan cousins of the Persians approached the Divine through Hinduism. Further East flourished the Buddhist and Taoist philosophies of life and, within all religions, blossomed the varieties of the Gnosis. In the Christian religion, St John, Master Eckart, St Hildegarde, St Therese are representatives of the gnosis line. In the gnosis, the movement towards God initiates and is sustained by Man who, through meditation, asceticism, love or other means reaches increasing levels in the grasping of the Truth and in the communion with God. This explains why religions and philosophies based on mystical experiences (Vedas, Upanishads, Taoism, Zen, Buddhism) expanded without conquest.
The opposition between the prophetic experience and the gnosis line is fundamental. The Persian, Jewish, Christian and Moslem religions stem from prophets who reveal the hidden truth, which God commanded the prophet to preach. The prophetic experience is a revelation. God calls on Man and expresses His Desire. He hereby initiates a History, whose beginning is the moment of the Revelation. The Truth revealed is, per force, absolute and leaves no room for compromise. This favors manicheist activities that end up in the massacre of heretics (e.g. Exodus XXXII, 25-28; Deuteronomy VII, l and VII, 16; Joshua VI, 21; the Inquisition; The Holy War). The end of History is the advent of the kingdom of God. History, in this prospect, will not undergo perpetual renewal.
The Indo-European tribes that descended from Siberia into Iran and India, needed to mutate from pilfering nomadic scavengers into planters, agriculturists and stock raisers. In Iran, Zarathustra, with the support of his king but against the will of the priests, accomplished this great mutation from nomadism to sedentariness. He realized that this mutation is not solely an economic phenomenon but also a religious and moral event. Zarathustra preached that Man, who was a pawn in the hands of nature, might, as a responsible actor, participate in the Creation. Man may live otherwise than as a dice in the hands of the Heavenly Player. The might of the gods who send floods, storms, hailstorms and drought is compounded by the might of the ruthless, greedy Nomad who destroys what has been ploughed, sowed, built, drained, raised, harvested, planned.
Zarathustra, the prophet, defined the goals and also the enemies. Until his time, the malevolent forces were the Cosmic Deities. Zoroaster, for the first time, substituted for the natural opposition of malevolent and benevolent tutelary forces, the human opposition of Good and Evil. For Zarathustra, “he who sows wheat sows Goodness”. Evil is whatever opposes this fight for the humanization of nature, particularly the Nomad, and each human being is responsible for the choice he makes between these two ways of living. Man must act as a responsible creative being.
Zarathustra made the transition between a cosmic and an ethic deity. The vision of Zarathustra was remarkably complete in that this ethic deity was conceived in an abstract form, without reference to any anthropomorphism. God is not made at the image of Man and vice-versa. Further, this God is unique. Ahura Mazda is neither God of Good nor of Evil but is Liberty. The liberty to choose. Each man is responsible for the choice that makes him a liar, a pilferer and a destroyer or else a promoter of the principle of Goodness. Life is an inner combat against our own evil impulses and a combat against the partisans of evil actions. For Zarathustra, each man must be, together, a mystic and a fighter8. The sacrifice that God demands is not gold, sheep, cows, enemies, slaves, maidens or children, but is the inner sacrifice of the man who sacrifices his words and his deeds to participate in the advent of Goodness on earth. Goodness is sedentariness, Evil is nomadism.
In Iran, Mithraism replaced Zoroastrism, although a few temples dedicated to Zarathustra are still present there, where Zoroaster’s worship is maintained alive up to this day (fig. 9.6).
Figure 9.6. Inside the Zoroastrian temple of Pit-e-pars Banou, Yazd. Iran.The Parsees of India also worship Zarathustra
The deluge is a Mesopotamian myth, described in the Gilgamesh epopee. In the Mesopotamian version, the deluge is a story of hope and perpetual renewal: cosmic deities unleash a natural catastrophe that Man is able to survive until the next disaster, which is surmounted again, and so on forever. In Greek mythology, Prometheus has his liver eaten by a vulture, and then the liver grows again, is eaten again, and so on forever.
The Jewish tribes led by Abraham transformed the myth into a History. In the Jewish version of the Deluge, it is the infidelity of Man that provoked the flooding. Noah was saved because of his fidelity. The flood marks an end and a new beginning for the believers in Yahweh. This first trace of prophetism was not restricted to the Jewish tradition but can be found also in the Mesopotamian civilization, where the Alliance between God and the King is mentioned in the archives of Mari.
The contacts of the Jews with the Egyptians are evidenced in Psalm 104: “The Splendor of the Creation”: it is a plagiarism of the “Hymn to the Sun” of Akenaton (14th century). The sun is more important to sedentary people than to nomads. The Jews were initially nomads. They definitely preferred the nomad Abel to the sedentary Kane. After their contact with the Egyptians, they resumed nomadism. However, the seeds of sedentariness planted by Akenaton began to grow and the Jews after wandering during 40 years in the Sinai claimed Canaan as their homeland. To achieve this, the Bible indicates that Moses organized the tribes into battalions impregnated with Puritanism, Self-righteousness, Cruelty and Chauvinism. The Torah was written in the years 500 BC. The invasion of Canaan took place around the years 1250 BC (and not 1400 BC as commonly assumed). At that time, earthquakes destroyed a majority of the cities around the Mediterranean, including in Canaan (e.g. Jericho) where a majority of Hebrews, who never had left for Egypt, lived under the control of the culturally much more refined Canaanese. The destruction of the social fabric of the region due to the earthquakes allowed the emergence of the rustic Hebrews, soon joined by the 12 nomad tribes dwelling in the Sinai. Archeological finds point out to destructions in Canaan at that time. These destructions were thought to be due to war but may as well be traced to earthquakes. The Bible, written 750 years after the events, embellished the whole of the conquest of Canaan, which was but the occupation of a deserted land by a local population, and relates events that clearly point to and extol the nomadism and racism of the 12 nomadic tribes. For example, Noah lives under the tent (Gen 9, 21) but engages in a sedentary occupation: the growing of vines and the making of wine. To stand the heat, he strips, gets drunk and falls asleep. His youngest son, Cham, warns his elder sons. The Bible mentions no improper behavior except that Cham did not cover his father. The eldest sons, Sem and Japhet, covered their father walking backwards, without looking at him (Gen 9, 23). This is a manifestation of prudery totally out of phase with the customs and habits of the Near East populations who are not shy, yet the descendants of Sem, as a reward, obtained the land of Canaan populated by the descendants of Cham, whom they allegedly exterminated. Another example: Rebecca and Isaac lived among Philistines (Gen 26) where they had been welcomed. Their eldest son, Esau, was sedentary-minded. He married two Hittite women, which displeased Isaac and Rebecca (Gen 26, 34). His brother Jacob married within his own tribe, was a pastor and he inherited from Isaac. Much later, Judas exterminated the descendants of Esau (1M 5, 3). Finally, Jacob moved to Egypt, where he was welcomed. He prospered but the Hebrews refused to adapt, hence their departure, after having robbed the Egyptians of their goods (Ex. 3, 21-22 and 12, 35-36).
The bible repeatedly states that traveling throughout the region presented little danger. Abraham traveled from Mesopotamia to Egypt, Moses had to leave Egypt after the murder of an Egyptian and was welcomed in the Sinai, Joseph traveled from Canaan to Egypt, as did his brothers, David spent much time among the Philistines, Paul traveled extensively throughout the Roman realm without any trouble. This was true also for Marco Polo who traveled overland to China and return. In the New World, the Algonquin nations extended from New York to Florida on the Atlantic Seaboard. They lived sedentary lives, dispersed in small tribes all along the coast and received well the first English settlers, in 1584. The colonists who landed in North Carolina in 1587 were equally well accepted. These colonists were lost, despite the five attempts made by Sir Walter Raleigh to succor them. However, these colonists survived, diluting their blood and cultural habits within the local indigenous population. According to M. Robinson, who studied the “Riddle of the Lost Colony” in 1946 (ed. The Ink Pot), “An outstanding element of Indian nature was his hospitality, going even as far as sacrifice. He did not stop sharing his food, his comforts and his enjoyments. ….It is quite proper and reasonable to suppose that the Indians did not live long with the white people without intermarriage, an implication of their generous hospitality”. The bible repeatedly mentions a similar conduct, which was abandoned by the Hebrews after the exodus.
In Exodus (XX, 2-17) Moses receives the Law from Yahweh, about 500 years after Hamurabi received the Law from the God Shamash. This Hebraic Law was received in the desert and segregated effectively the Hebrews from surrounding nations by ordering blind obedience to it, by reserving the God of Heavens, Yahweh, exclusively to the Hebrews and by forcing on them a strict Puritanism. Man is a tropical animal. He lived initially naked and some Nilotic people live in the nude in the Sudan (fig. 9.7).
Figure 9.7. Picture taken by K. Nomachi. A Photographer’s Pilgrimage, 2005, White star S.p. A.
The Dinka are sedentary, live essentially on the milk of cows, which they never kill, and are either Christians or animists. A few Amazonian tribes also live completely naked as of today, and the now extinct Fuegians, at the tip of South America, wore no clothing either, despite the harsh surroundings.
Egypt itself had initially a population clad with either a loincloth or else nothing (fig. 9.8). This was still true thousand years later.
Figure 9.8. Pastoral scene during the 6th dynasty (Sakkara, around 2.200 B.C.) A supervisor wearing a loincloth directs a naked servant to deliver a cow.
Figure 9.9. Around 1335 BC. Toutankhamon wears the crown of Upper Egypt, a large neckband and only a loincloth (Egyptian museum, Cairo. N° JE 60714).
The Greeks also wore either a loin cloth or else were naked, as late as the fifth century B.C. (fig. 9.10). The upper social classes took distinction through clothing. This was true in nearly all antique civilizations (fig. 9.11).
Figure 9.10. Attic vase, 5th century B.C. Gathering of olives, British museum.
Figure 9.11. Funerary urn (lecythe). National Museum, Athens, 440 B.C. The dead youth stands in front of his own tomb. He wears only a chlamyde, which consists in a large piece of cloth attached on the right shoulder and is naked underneath. Apocryph evangels report that Luc, a Greek-educated physician, wore only a chlamyd when he was grabbed and arrested by a Roman soldier on Holy Friday, at the foot of the cross. He escaped all naked, by leaving his chlamyd in the hands of the soldier.
Nomads wandering in deserts, as were the Hebrews after their exodus from Egypt, must imperatively wear clothes for protection against sun, sandstorms, and cold. In addition, the Hebrews were a warrior tribe, with all the consequences this had on their mentality. They plundered the Egyptians when they left the country (Ex. 3, 21-22) and continued to live as predatory nomads thereafter. They became obsessed with purity, this obsession being translated into the Law whom they received in the desert, from Yahweh. In Egypt, the priests wore only a loin cloth and this disturbed the Hebrews who received the command to build the altar level, so as not to expose the genitals of the priest escalading steps (Ex. 20, 26). The decency of the Israeli priest was further guaranteed, under penalty of death, by the imposition of the wearing of trunks (Ex. 28, 42-43). David, dancing while bringing the arch to Jerusalem, wore only a loincloth. He was scolded by Mikal, with the reproach that he behaved like a man of low condition (2 S. 6, 20) wearing only a loincloth. David told her to get lost, but nudity is a constant preoccupation, and even an obsession of the priests (Lv. 18, 1-19).
Yahweh protects the believer who follows the Torah not because he is efficient, honest and able but because he believes (Luther and Muhammad shared this point of view: to them nothing is more important than Faith). The archaic Torah multiplies the ritual prescriptions. Alimentary and vestimentary interdictions, sacrifices and rituals sanction the alliance between a master and his slaves. This alliance leads to ethnocentrism and racism (Ezr. IX, 2 and X, 2; and Nehemiah, IX, 2). Ezra made public a list of those Hebrews who had married foreigners, and these women were sent away with their children (are Jewish only the children born from a Jewish mother). Love is not mentioned. Orthodox Jews thank Yahweh daily for not being born women. Ezra made also a listing of the slaves of the Jewish folk acquired by Joshua after the invasion of Canaan (“the given”: Ezr. 2, 4) and of the slaves of Solomon (Ezr2, 55), and Jeremiah mentions the Jewish slaves (Jr. 34, 8-18). The strict observation of the Law, in its smallest details with attention given to fear of possible transgressions is exemplified by the behavior of Judith, text written about 100 years B.C. during the Hellenistic occupation of the land. She accepts an invitation by Holopherne but refuses the food he serves by fear that she might, if she eats it, unknowingly transgress the Law (Jdt 12, 1-2)9. Holopherne does not take offense, but it is one, and Paul, in two sentences, waves this nonsense away : 1CO 10, 25-27.
The law of Yahweh is a compendium of household behavior written by a Lord to keep social justice among his servants. The Rekabites remained faithful to the Law as divulged by Moses and remained nomads: no wine, no sowing, no houses, and Jeremiah cites them as example (Jr. 35, 1-19). However, most Hebrews in the course of History and especially during Hellenistic times, wanted to free themselves from this contriving Law but there always arose prophets to call a minority of the believers back in the right path. Judith was written to show how Jews must behave with their Hellenistic occupants. Throughout these times, their neighbors cordially hated Hebrews. This is stated repeatedly in the Bible and best exposed by the Jews themselves in Sg 2, 13 and following, which confesses: He prides in possessing the knowledge of God and calls himself the son of the Lord, he is a vivid reproach for our thinking, his view alone is us a burden, his life style clashes with ours, his behavior is eccentric, we represent for him corruption, he avoids our contact as a blemish.
The first mention of love is in the Leviticus (XIX, 18). The Jewish contact with the Persians in the 6th century brings about the great metamorphosis of Judaism, with the first explicit formulation of monotheism. The Jews, ordered by Cyrus to leave Babylon, left the city with the notion of a supreme God and a subordinate malevolent demon, Satan. The ethic view elaborated by Zarathustra would impress itself for the following 27 centuries. God is now conceived as universal and unique. The Deportation of Babylon prompts the idea of a God of Justice and Love (Isaie XLV, 21) who rejects human and animal sacrifices (Oseas, VI, 6). The concept of the relation of God to humans is no longer from then onwards a relation of slavish submission and obedience as demanded in the Torah but becomes a relation of love and mutual fidelity explained through a conjugal symbolism. The Jews who were polygamous during their nomadic phase turned slowly to monogamy and blended this social institution with their religion. It gave rise to the Christian faith.
Jesus preached in Galilee six hundred years after the intimate contact of the Jews with Babylon. The country was occupied by foreign Roman armies and had returned to integrist creeds. Christ fully disregarded rites, rituals, social conventions and despised the integrist ruling classes.
To say “give to Cesar what to him belongs and to God what belongs to God” was an unacceptable provocation for Pilate because Cesar was God. Cesar must receive all. To say “love thy enemy” went counter to the Torah, which said “eye for eye” and “do to others what they do to you”. By his preaching, Jesus gained the lethal hatred of the priests, who considered him sacrilegious.
The essence of the Christian faith resides in the statement: I love, thus I am. For a Christian, God is Love. Starting from this premise evolved the dogma of the Trinity. It may be presented as follows: God is Love. Love is a movement towards the exterior and must have an object that returns the love. Since the love given is divine, the returned love must also be divine. Hence God the Father and God the Son. However, a back and forth movement of divine love upon itself is bridling the expansive movement of love. Love is generosity and expansion and must address itself to a third person. Hence, the Holy Spirit, who is also of a divine nature. As an analogy, a human male loves a human female, which is of the same nature as the male but different and, at the moment love among the two is maximal, at the moment the two become one, then fecundation makes them in reality three, all of the same nature but different: they are three in one.
The truth and beauty of this concept of Trinitarian love can be fully reached only by mystical endeavors. Yet, the Jews were not inclined to think in abstract terms and turned to comparisons, images and metaphors whenever possible. Jesus spoke by parables. The second handicap of the new creed for its expansion was its encounter with the Greek rational mode of thinking. The third handicap for expansion was monogamy.
These three handicaps proved too much for the new creed to durably expand as a Unitarian Church. The anthropomorphism of the divine manifestations, the difficulty to think in abstract terms, the need to rationalize the Faith, the assimilation of the divine love to the marriage institutions of the West, the arrogance of various ecclesiastical authorities, all combined to provoke schisms.
9.4.4 The past schisms
The first reform occurred about 600 years after the foundation of the creed. By that time, the primitive mystical Christian sect had evolved into a Church, whose program became unacceptable to an Arabian cultural sphere whose nomadic life-style was alien to the proposed values, especially to the type of marriage institution that was somehow linked to the Trinitarian love.
The social institution of marriage may take many different aspects. In the West, cultural pressures proclaim that monogamy with the raising of a family by the indissoluble couple is the obligate and natural social mold in which human love should blossom. Yet, polygamy and polyandry are also satisfactory solutions to the raising of a family. Families based on brotherhood also exist: the women of the familial unit accept any foreign transient mate, while the brothers and sisters of the familial unit provide lasting security. These systems prove their value by their permanence. In the West, brothels and a high rate of divorces demonstrate that monogamy is not necessarily satisfactory. The tendency shown by our modern societies to abandon the education of children and the care of the elderly into the hands of the State also demonstrates that the concept of a close-knit familial unit responsible for the children it sires and for the elderly parents who cannot economically survive is not necessarily the perfect institution it pretends to be.
Strict, narrow monogamy leads to the egotism of the couple, extending thereafter to the egotism of the family, of the tribe and of the nation. Unbridled polygamy leads to despicableness and arrogance, to harems and to dispersion. Yet, polygamy and polyandry bear some virtues. They allow the extension of the family to a large number of relatives. In case of drought, calamities, sickness, penury or other necessities, they draw on a large amount of help extending over a vast geographic area. They fight endogamy. Polygamy seems well adapted to a nomadic way of life.
The primitive Church only very cautiously enmeshed with the social custom of marriage. Initially, marriage oaths were taken in the absence of a priest. It is only very slowly that the sacrament of marriage acquired a ritual, a priest and a solemnity that all tended to favor the indissolubility of the bond and its strict monogamy. This was unacceptable to polygamous nomads and Mohammed founded Islam by returning back to the sources, back to the Evangelium and the Bible, and applying logic to their teaching.
The concept of the Trinitarian Unity, simple and yet unduly complicated by the ratiocinations of theologians was evacuated. Hence, the statement: “God alone is God and Mohammed is his Prophet”. This statement confirms that there exists only one God and not three united in one, and that this God is indescribable. God depicted as a bearded father figure painted on ceilings and walls is sacrilegious: God cannot be described. The concept of the Son of God conceived by a virgin woman who would be the mother of God after having been virginally impregnated by God defies logic and was also eliminated: Mary was the mother of the prophet Jesus and Mohammed also was only a prophet. The anthropomorphic confusion established by the Roman Church between Trinitarian love and human marriage customs was thereby abolished.
Jesus had consolidated the mutual love of the believers by their weekly gathering and communion, during which symbols of the agricultural civilization, bread and wine, were shared. Sedentariness allows weekly reunions. Mohammed adapted the creed to the life-style of the nomad believers and recommended them to pray wherever they happened to be, by turning to Mecca. He returned to an animal sacrifice, symbol of a pastoral and nomadic culture. The annual Feast of Sharing (the Aïd-el-kebir) practiced by all Moslem families, is marked by the simultaneous slaughtering, butchering and skinning of millions of sheep, all over the world.
The weakness of Islam resides in the Koran. The Book was dictated by God to Mohammed and each of its sourates is sacred. Departures from the written prescriptions are sacrilegious. Further, it was written in Arabic. Since the words of the Koran are sacred, they cannot be translated. However, this creed, simple to understand and relying on the popular impulses of violence, domination and sex, appealed to all the Christians rejected by the Orthodox Church (the Arians, the Nestorians, the Monophysites) and also to the disciples of Zarathustra and to those of the Buddha. The Jews clung to the Torah.
Three hundred years later occurred the second schism. Controversies arose about God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Were the “substances” of the three “persons” of an identical or of a similar nature? Was Mary the Mother of God or only of Christ? Did the Spirit proceed from the Father and the Son, or from the Father through the Son? Was the Son God and Human or was he God endowed of a human nature or a Human with Divine attributes? The Eastern Orthodox Church, nurtured by other sources than the German-Roman civilization, fully aware that the Trinitarian Treasure was the “raison d’être” and the foundation of the Christian faith, refused to admit the dual irreconcilable drive of the Roman Church to organize society starting from the individual on one side and considering at the same time society as a whole, as if it were an animal organism. Separation was unavoidable.
About four hundred years later, the strain imposed on the conciliation of these two radically opposite drives became unbearable within the western realm itself and Western Christianity fractionated into national Churches. On one side, the Roman Catholic Church pretends to be ecumenical and universal. On the other, its insistence on the monogamous indissolubility of the procreation bonds leads paradoxically to the exaltation of the couple-bond, the family-bond, the tribe-bond, ending up with the nation-bond, all egotistically closing up on themselves. Nation-States are the repulsive fruit of the Roman Catholic teaching and a negation of the generous Trinitarian Love the same Church preaches.
At the present time, contact with other cultures is the cause of the same misunderstandings and blockades that occurred in earlier times and the schisms of Latin American and African Churches are in gestation.
9.4.5 The schisms in gestation
In Latin America, the Theology of Liberation proclaimed, on September 1968 at the Medellin conference, that the Christian is pacific but not necessarily therefore submissive; he may become a fighter when social injustices are excessive. However, priests carrying guns are an enormous contradiction, which the Orthodoxy cannot possibly admit. It runs counter to the fundamental precepts: “love thy enemy” and “thou shall not kill”.
In Africa, the Roman and Reformed Churches confronted extra-European cultural universes in the worst conditions: instead of being the religion of the slaves, it came with the guns of the masters. Colonial powers used the Church as a penetration instrument. To the Hierarchy, the fruits of the European mode of thinking have been distributed worldwide and constitute an irreversible fact compared to which the African Tradition is virtually nonexistent. The divorce between the African culture and the Roman Church is demonstrated by the raising of problems such as the demand by the African Hierarchy to replace the bread of Eucharist by mil or sorghum. This demand betrays a deep resentment and dissatisfaction of the African Church, which touches the very core of black cultural habits. It stands for the value of the Christian Marriage. The African Church fears the imposition, under the pretext of Universality, of a unique Western model of marriage, deemed “Christian” and of a western model of a “Christian” family.
The monogamous and indissoluble Christian marriage ill-functions in Africa, as it does also in contemporary Europe and the U.S. And Christ never said when a valid marriage acquired indissolubility. Even in staunchly Christian countries, this evidence begins to take form. Also Christ himself never married but frequented whores. He was the son of a maiden who never married either. Yet, she could raise her son to become a carpenter. Christ himself and his disciples apparently went without women. The Roman Hierarchy interprets this behavior as abstinence and celibacy but the gospels do not make it obvious nor do they surround strict monogamy with an aura of sanctity, especially since Saint Peter, the first Pope, had a wife and a daughter.
To praise monogamy in a continent where love, generosity and polygamy have reigned during millenaries as a means of sharing penury will not be accepted in the long run.