(…as the fountainhead of bigotry and intolerance)

A long time ago, when humans lived in simpler forms of society, the concept of “deity” did not exist. As time went on, however, humans found they needed something to explain why the natural world around them was…the way it was.

Human imagination being what it is, however, there came a time when the answers to that question were ascribed to “spirits”. Everything around them had, or was, a spirit… the air they breathed…the waters they used…the trees…the grasses…even the ground they trod upon…not to mention the animal life that shared this planet with them. Everything… was governed by some sort of “spirit”, some benevolent…some…not so much. Soon, humans then began applying rituals of one kind or another…chants, food offerings, token gifts, drink, flowers etc., anything, that might propitiate, gratify, or pacify such spirits to behave benevolently towards them.

Later, humans began to realize that while all spirits were equally important …some…were more important than others. So these were “promoted”, so to speak, and humans now began calling them…Gods…and because there were a lot of them certain fellow humans were designated to act as their proxies, to take care of the tasks of making the offerings needed to ensure those…Gods… were kept happy and remained benevolently disposed. In so doing, humans started the unintended consequences that ultimately created… priesthoods.

As more time went by all those Gods also had to have homes, so humans came up with the idea of building these for them. Some were just small, humble –shrines-, others were a bit more imposing…with actual walls and roofs over their heads, and still others… were constructed with impressive dimensions, and elaborately decorated. These were called –temples-. The most elaborate examples of these being the Temple of Luxor, in Egypt, and the Parthenon, in Greece.

This was the start of a polytheistic world shared by innumerable -Gods-, a world in which all humans could freely worship as many of these as they felt was necessary, or desired (some Gods it seems were just more popular than others), and no one really cared what anyone else worshipped, or how they did so. Everyone could do their own thing, and no one thought the less of them for it as long as they didn’t sneer or make snide comments about someone else’s Gods or ways of worshipping them.

Further along in time, however, some folks figured that there had to be some kind of order among those Gods. After all, human society was organized that way, so it was only logical that Gods should have similar arrangements between them. This led some, like the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, to conclude that each God governed, or ruled over, certain aspects of life…birth…fertility…love…fortune…conflict…death…the afterlife, and so on.

The Greeks, in particular, soon came to the conclusion that all these Gods were organized into a pantheon, or, a clan-like relationship, with one of them as the overlord, whom they named –Zeus- , and described as a somewhat irascible and horny old coot, with a rather bi-polar personality quite ready to give you everything you wanted one moment…or to tear your head off the next, and always, always, ready to hump any female that caught his fancy (one of his favorite ploys for doing so was to change his shapes such as becoming…a swan…a bull …etc.)

As for the rest of them, there was another hotshot named – Neptune – who lorded over everything oceanic (sometimes he and Zeus would get into it, and their rumbles would have everyone looking for cover). Meanwhile two of the pantheon’s leading ladies were named Aphrodite and Athena. Aphrodite was the Goddess of Love…and as such seems to have had a somewhat “loose” reputation. Athena, on the other hand, was reportedly smart and wise as hell, but also a bit of a prig…all prim and proper like, and, to top it all off…as handy with spear, sword, and shield as any male…so it paid to stay on the right side of her…or you could end up with a mess of trouble. The other thing about the Greeks’ pantheon of Gods and Goddesses was their never-ending feuds and squabbling. They were constantly fussing and feuding with each other over the most trivial things, which is probably why the Greeks could relate to them. It was like looking in a mirror and seeing… themselves.

The Phoenicians came up with a similar but much less crowded pantheon. The key figure of which was named Ba’al, who was much like Zeus, only more into burnt offerings, especially of infants, instead of females. And their version of Aphrodite, named Astarte, was reportedly even more wanton than her Greek counterpart. Meanwhile, the Egyptians came up with their own versions of all that, but, for some reason, most of their Gods seemed to have cross- bred with other creatures to produce hybrids…like Horus…who had a falcon’s head…and Hathor… with a face like a cow, and a bunch of others, some with vulture’s features, others with those of crocodiles, jackals, cats, monkeys, etc.. Apparently the Egyptians had a more zoological concept of god-hood than everyone else.

Then much later, when the Romans came along, since they really didn’t have a strong theistic tradition of their own, beyond having been suckled by a wolf bitch, they just glommed on to whatever they found in the lands they conquered, and gave them Roman names to make them their own. Among other things they also adopted the idea that their Emperors could be considered as ….Gods.

Yet, throughout that ancient world of rituals and worship, no one really cared what any individual’s preferences were. Sectarianism simply didn’t exist. At most, those who were devotees of one kind of God or Goddess or another, behaved more like our loyal sports fans of today…rah-rah for our team…our guy rules…others drool…but not much more than that until…a couple of mavericks came along and began promoting a new twist to religious observance, which led to a change in that otherwise tolerant polytheistic world.

The first one of these was a Persian named Mithra. He had come to the conclusion that these multitudes of Gods and Goddesses was just too much bother; and, that everything was really just a matter of –Light- and –Dark – Light, of course was good, and Dark…not so good, and, because of that, these were always in conflict…thus –Fire- became his symbol for that…and his followers and devotees used it thereafter as the key element in their rituals. Mithraism soon became very popular, especially among military types, because it was simple, flexible and easy to practice in its observances, and didn’t require priests, temples, or other stuff, to do so.

To what extent or how his idea found its way over into Egypt is not clear; but, the next maverick to come up with a similar idea was a pharaoh known as Ahknaton, who went Mithra one better by proclaiming that the…Sun…was the one and only thing worthy of worship …and that everything else was a scam…which didn’t sit too well with certain special interests at the time…namely all those temple priests… who soon found themselves unemployed because of his proclamations to that effect. Of course, that then led to resistance, so Ahknaton was soon bumped off, declared a heretical menace to society, and more or less forgotten, along with that weird idea of his of there being only…one God.

But, that oddball pharaoh had planted a seed which would eventually result with an unintended consequence.

His idea was latched onto by a contracted, possibly indentured, skilled-labor force named …the Hebrews. When these decided to walk off the job (as possibly the very first labor action in human history over poor pay and working conditions), one thing led to another, and they were soon run out of Egypt, and left to wander out in the deserts of Arabia for a couple of generations. At that time they were just a motley crew, and, much like everyone else back then, held a mixed bag of beliefs and rituals, one of which was to have wild celebrations in honor of an image of a Calf…made of gold (or perhaps just gilded with it). Reportedly, these celebrations rivaled our own era’s excesses of …sex…drugs…and rock-and-roll, which steadily began eroding their unity.

Realizing that such a trend would undermine his position as their erstwhile leader, a guy named Moses, with a somewhat manic personality ( probably because as infant he had been abandoned and left in a basket floating on the river Nile, only to later be found and adopted by a pharaoh’s daughter, and thereby brought up as an Egyptian prince, thus leaving him very conflicted about his origins, so explaining a lot about his manic personality). Which is how he was probably familiar with all those old stories about that heretic pharaoh Ahknaton, so, to maintain his power, he decided to come up with his own version of that idea, declaring it with ten “commandments”…and so monotheism was born… once again. The rest, as they say…became history.

The other unintended consequence of that history is this: Monotheism…became the fountainhead of …all bigotry and intolerance in the world. Whereas, back in the time of Polytheism, religious affiliation or practice of whatever kind was strictly a matter of individual choice, having little or no relative importance when it came to social interaction, because Monotheism was essentially exclusive, religious affiliation very rapidly became intolerant of anyone not of or believing in its version of it, thereby creating sectarian divisions and conflicts.

Even Judaism’s version of it generated divergent interpretations and views, causing conflicts (some still extant). An offshoot of those conflicts was… the Nazarenes, more or less analogous to those folks we later called…Puritans… because it sought to purify and reform conventional Judaic practice and rituals of the time. When its leader, named Jesus, was executed by the Romans, his disciples then scattered and began campaigning against them. Ultimately they created a movement which they called …Christianity…taking what had mainly been a Jewish sect, and turning it into a global one. Of course that didn’t sit too well with either the Jewish establishment, or, the still mostly polytheistic Roman world of the time, so its adherents and promoters soon found themselves declared agitators and revolutionaries, persecuted accordingly, and forced to literally go… underground…or end up as the main attractions in a big-event venue in Rome called the Colosseum (either as feed-stock for wild beasts, or, strung up and slaughtered in all sorts of creative ways as public entertainment for Rome’s masses).

Much later, that early sanguinary period was set aside by a latter-day emperor named Constantine who, to achieve absolute status and power over what was left of the Roman imperial world, decided to make it the official religion of the empire, and the only one allowed in it. This was the beginning of the joining of church and state, a combination which plagued the rest of humanity for centuries, and still does, in many parts of our world today. Perhaps it is from this violent matrix of its origins that Christianity became one of the more predatory and most intolerant religions ever conceived by humans. But almost from the start, it was torn and ripped apart by violent sectarian conflicts, arguing over every conceivable type of interpretations of its doctrines and rituals. Its earliest “heretics” being the Arians and Manacheans, followed later, by the Cathars. The oldest version of it, the Copts (who probably remained much closer to its original form and character), were more or less just banished. Later, a tiff about who was in charge of something, or not, led to further division becoming the Catholic and Orthodox versions of what had once just been a rather simple guidance system for righteous living.

Yet again, another offshoot then sprang up from all that when a caravan entrepreneur and rug merchant, named Mohamed, decided that his fellow Christian practitioners were spending too much time squabbling over doctrines and other irrelevancies, and, since they weren’t inclined to listen to his ideas about reforming such things, he tried to set up his own version of it. It was not easy going, and eventually found he himself run out of town and forced to find refuge way out in the desert somewhere. Eventually, however, he managed to gather enough followers to strike back and take over from all those who had forced him out before, and now, his word…became law. Even so, after he died, a family feud erupted about who should take over in his place (a feud that continues to this day).

The rest of Christianity did no better, and today, it also has become a kaleidoscope of denominations and sects each convinced that only they are the true believers and interpreters of what it is, or is supposed to be.

While this is a very compressed version of all that history, we can clearly see from it that Monotheism has been the cause of more mayhem and slaughter than anything else in human history. As a late Native-American Lakota cousin once put it to some born-again missionary types trying to convert him: “My young friends…I follow the old ways…but I would never presume to try telling you to follow mine. So, your attempts to make me follow yours instead, shows that you have neither respect nor understanding of what true religion and righteousness is all about.”

And that is the problem with Monotheism as we know it today. Too many people seem bent on wanting to use it as a weapon…as a means of gaining power and maintaining control over others… rather than applying it as a blueprint for righteous living.

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