How many of us don’t remember being told, in no uncertain terms, that if we wanted presents for xmas, we better be “good little boys/girls”? Even as a jew, I was told this (that should tell you something about my family of origin)!
In that little phrase “good little girl/boy”, the whole purpose of religion is revealed. This is what the book of Revelations should have been about.
More than anything else, religion is about Obedience. We can make this discovery if we go way back in time and look at religion when it first got its start at the time of the first great agricultural revolution – about 10,000 years ago in the Tigris/Euphrates Valley in present day Iraq. What happened back then that gave birth to religion, as we know it today? What does that cultural event have to tell us about Santa Claus?
Quite a lot actually.
Prior to the development of intensive agriculture the lives of men and women were governed by the movements of wild animals. Nearly all people were nomadic. They followed the herds for meat and scoured the earth for wild vegetables, nuts, and herbs.
Their most important skill was pure, naked awareness. They needed to see their world in order to survive. And this next fact should blow your mind. These people lacked storage containers. Why is this little fact so incredibly amazing? It is extraordinary because it tells us that nearly every human being faced hunger and even starvation every day if the people failed to find adequate food. You and I might get blown all out of shape if our car fails to start in the morning or if our internet connection isn’t working. Well these people faced death every morning and all indications suggest that they really didn’t worry about it.
They had something that people today lack and that quality is trust. They had complete trust that nature would take of their needs, even if they lived in some of the harshest climates on earth, such as the deserts of Northern Africa, the Arctic, or the rain forests. Contemporary studies of modern hunting and gathering people have clearly shown that they didn’t worry about food. They were experts at awareness and the competence that gave them in their lives and they trusted utterly.
Yet these same people had no notion of religion. Yes, they believed in spirits, but their beliefs were based on the larger realization that everything is alive. And as a living being, it possessed a spirit. Birth, death, marriage were not defined by the handed-down rules of a religious organization. Instead, they were everyday happenings with no special significance outside of themselves. Even death was a casual event of little importance.
All of that changed with the advent of intensive agriculture. Once people began to depend on their own work and not nature itself, then they needed to invent gods to protect their crops. So the first religions were about rain and sun gods, the very celestial bodies on which their farms depended. The other essential god was a fertility god, which could bless women with the capacity of having many children, especially boys. For in the world of intensive agriculture what was needed more than anything else was workers and soldiers. So men had to exchange the formless freedoms of the hunting and gathering life to the world of endless labor in the hot sun, tending the crops and building great edifices for their god rulers. And women became baby makers, for without sufficient workers and soldiers the fledgling nation would fall victim to other states, as well as to experience the decline of their farms.
What was the essential ingredient on which this world depended? Obedience. Productive work from dawn to dusk was essential. And a big part of the newly minted obedient life was to placate the never fully dependable gods. So men invented human sacrifice and countless other ceremonies intended to keep the potentially angry gods satisfied with human labor and faithfulness.
The failure to fear the gods and their representatives on earth was a great sin punishable by death. Obedience was the name of the game then and continues to be now. We must follow the rules. We must fear punishment. We must please our parents, teachers, and bosses. Our lives must be governed by fear. The forge of civilization was and always has been discipline. Without discipline, the whole edifice of industrial civilization falls apart. It is not built by labor, rather endless labor is made possible through fear. Civilization and fear are one and the same.
We might have many of the fruits of civilization, but it need not be driven by fear and obedience. There is another way, but that is the themes of future posts.
Thus Adam was punished for eating at the Tree of Knowledge by a life of endless labor and Eve was punished by having to experience the agony of child-birth. Who did this? It could be no one else but God. Only God could be this vengeful. Only God could create a universe of toil built on obedience. This newly created God became the embodiment of the industrial world. God too, is fear. We are told that we must fear God and love him all at the same time.
And just as Native American languages have no word for “religion”, they also have no word for “punishment”. Isn’t that interesting? Doesn’t that open up alternative worlds to you?
And from all of this pain and fear, religion took on its second role – that of creating stories of transcendence. If we work ourselves to the bone and if we raise enough laborers and soldiers and, most of all, if we’ve been “good little girls and boys”, then and only then can we rewarded by an eternity in heaven. Hallelujah. Thank you God, for your are more than anything else a loving God.
Now, if you’re not obedient, then you go and spend an eternity in the fires and ice of hell. Can we make it any clearer than that? We might also say, that if you meditate for a hundred lifetimes, if you’re lucky you’ll attain Nirvana – same difference – same game.
So you better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to town.