|Shades of gods
Every normal human being desires to understand and have a control over his environment or surroundings. Science and technology are the tools that help us achieve that understanding and control. Religion was the earliest science and ritual was its technology.
I’m continuing with my reading and interpretation of Grayling’s book introduced in my last post. Grayling argues that the earliest science and technology were “stories, myths and supernaturalistic beliefs.” The stories, myths and beliefs gave purpose and meaning to life’s experiences. For example, the Ramayana gave us the meaning and purpose behind the battle between good and evil. Krishna of the Gita taught us to kill irrespective of our personal relationships so long as our duty mandates the killing. Let’s forget for now that the same religion which evolved out of these scriptures later taught us the superiority of vegetarianism over killings of human beings.
We are discussing the origins of religion. Grayling argues that understanding the reality around us, explaining it to others and controlling it are the original purposes of religion. We would call such things science and technology today. Science is about understanding the phenomena around us. Technology is about controlling the phenomena. What religion did was just that in the early days of mankind. It tried to make sense of the phenomena around.
And it used technologies such as prayers, rituals and taboos.
But people’s understanding improves with greater knowledge about their environment and the phenomena in it. Then the gods receded from friendly neighbourhoods to hostile distances like Mont Olympus or the Himalayas. The water nymphs, wind gods and fertility goddesses receded from the Vedas to the more abstract gods of the Upanishads in India. Similar distances were adopted by gods in other civilisations too.
Who created such distances, however? Gods themselves could not have done it since they were only products of human imagination or desires. The ordinary people wouldn’t have created that distance since they would have been happy to have familiar gods at ever-ready service.
The priests wanted the distancing between gods and the people. Religion became a powerful tool for social control, in other words. Priests became the rulers of people.
Isn’t religion a powerful instrument of social control even today? Maybe, the priests have put on new garbs. Of politicians, for example? Or even businessmen? Is the politician wearing the garb of the priest and the businessman that of the politician and ...?
I’m still learning about that from Grayling. More will follow.
[I have taken much liberty in interpreting what Grayling has written in his book, The God Argument: The Case against Religion and for Humanism, while writing this blog post. This is not a review. These are my reflections as I go ahead reading the book.]