Since our ancestors began questioning existence the notion of immortals overseeing the operations and development of communities has been universal. Throughout the globe we find ancient gods disposed with human temperaments, their stories underpinning explanations to life’s intricacies and the faith of people. Although prominent for millennia, in the West during the 4th Century the ruling emperor Constantine adopted Christianity as the Empire’s guiding doctrine, spurring the progressive and eventual deterioration of Paganism.
Instead of having multiple gods, the Abrahamic religions denote all the fortune and adversity befalling people to an individual creator, the omnipotent intelligent designer. There is an essence of hypocrisy in the idea of a benevolent God not intervening in catastrophe whilst wilfully inflicting pain on his subjects, toying with the psyche of followers and community at large. We cannot say reverting back to Paganism is the most auspicious for our species (One would postulate a coalescing of western and eastern philosophy), however would citizens of the West live better lives by being able to relate to those moderating human life or fearing a man in the sky?
The Divine Eye
Salient to the Western religious worldview is God’s omnipresence. The concept of the creator following devotees lives makes them feel special, finding meaning in believing the divine eye is watching over them. Conversely, the idea of constant surveillance also permits the leading figures in institutionalized religion to maintain control through fear, insisting only they can anoint and absolve wayward behaviour.
Sin has been a major abettor in governing the faithful setting a perimeter of mortality around the actions of individuals, the barriers shifting according to power held by a perpetrator (e.g. paedophile priests).
The deterministic nature of God is another prominent feature with the immortal responsible for every transpiring event. This can help believers accept their delegated fate without rancour and install resilience, alternatively it can induce atrophy into people’s lives as they rely on supernatural assistance for intended outcomes. This mentality often materializes a lack of responsibility for one’s own actions. With God’s will reining supreme they trust their destiny is set in stone, becoming a hopeful observer not an active participant in the human experience.
Jeopardising one’s perennial afterlife Western religions have a superlative cattle prod to nudge followers into their attitudes, utilizing the threat of eternal suffering to strip people of independent thought. However in the Christian faith there is a little loophole, repentance on one’s deathbed for all immoral activity allows a passage to Heaven. With this sanctified get-out-of-jail-free card it’s not wonder Mobsters enjoy lightening their pockets at St. Peter’s Square.
Willing the Gods
The starkest difference between Western religion and Paganism lay in the polytheistic framework denoting unique characteristics and human dispositions to deities. Within the structure different gods handle the various aspects of life – like Aphrodite the love doctor, Loki the mischievous magician, Osiris the governor of Hades, Shiva the world recyclist and even Jupiter the God of Gods, each playing their part in influencing the human experience.
Deposed with human temperament people are at the whims of the god’s moods as they swirl with heavenly indiscretions, yet it also enables people to relate to them. A god with a volatile personality is easier to understand than one which gives with one hand and backhands you in the face with the other. Deities with diverse attitudes towards human affairs present a more viable case for the capricious outcome of life’s events than an all-loving God who kills to prove a point. The creator here forgets cosmic philosophy – an immoral deed done for moral purposes is still immoral .
Another key difference is rather than believing the gods are constantly observing, Pagans implemented action to gain their attention and will them into favour. Although many successful people acclaim their feats to God, for majority of followers they are happy to have faith in the almighty hand dealing them their cards. Instead of finding a way to most propitiously play them they abide by the eternal prospect of “Let God Decide”.
People deeply progressed down this mentality could use some Nietzsche paraphrasing, “Be your own god! Create your personal superman!” One should approach life with the zest of a Viking destined to greet Odin in the Hall of Valhalla, not waiting for divine intervention to bundle destiny but actively packaging it oneself.
With the vast increase in population perhaps the angle the West has taken towards monotheism has been more of what humanity has needed. In order to have large numbers of people living together belief in certain stories must be shared. Potentially, with one God instead of many gods, there is less chance of the community fraying in factions.
Over the past two millennia monotheism has not stayed static with copious re-renderings of the same core principles categorizing people into subgroups from Mormons to Shiites to Orthodox to Secular. Add a touch of bipartisan politics and society’s fabric is sliced into the well-defined segments of “This or That?”.
Science has done exceptionally well in feeding human curiosities and growing our collective intellect, yet its limitations lay in its materialistic approach to life.
Although neglected by science, one’s Spirituality is an integral part to the wholesome development of a person. However, in the West religion has been institutionalized making it less about community spirit and more about public control.
In Pagan societies mysticism was imbedded in the understanding of life’s operations, like a lightning bolt from a contemptuous Zeus or a calm sea indicating Poseidon’s sacrificial contentment, engendering devout reverence to nature as an extension of the gods. The adherence to nature as a deity is a far cry from our current civilizational creed of use and abuse, continuing to double down on the lubeless degradation of a bleeding planet.
If the West believes God to be in everything why would we be leading the planets decay? Maybe because judgement day has been coming soon for millennia. Instead of owning the time and space they occupy now, Abrahamic followers are preparing for the collapse of humanity and a meeting with God to determine their fate. If people are worried about their divine decision they aren’t focussing on the issues currently arising and, with an ability to repent whenever, personal gain has overridden community ethos.
Within the Abrahamic Religions there are great moral teachings worthy of rumination, yet there are many aspects to the institutionalized power structure which aim to control and manipulate. We tend to observe ancient religions with a connotation of primitivism, and while their understanding of the universe was limited, the underlying themes retain pertinence within society. The idea of willing the gods in ones favour portrays a message of creating ones existence instead of waiting for providence. Of making life special instead of believing it is innately divine, to act good not because one might go to hell but because it’s the right thing to do.
Since we began to question life the concept of deities has lingered. Potentially, if in the West the gods still had human temperaments, more people could enhance relationship to religion and improve the spiritual aspect of society, reconnecting people with the mysticism underpinning the human experience.
Image Source: Pinterest