The idea that religion is nothing but an organized form of cruelty is a reality that runs counter to the propaganda that the various religious establishments of the world have foisted off on us. According to the world’s two most important authorities on the religions of the world in the pre-Christian era, James G. Frazier and the cultural anthropologist Joseph Campbell; human sacrifice was the main ingredient of these ancient rites that have been labeled pagan in an effort to differentiate them from the mild mannered religions of the present civilized era. The question that then begs to be asked is what social force was responsible for creating the basis for civilization in the first place if not the world’s various competing religious creeds, denominations, and cults? A further elaboration of the world’s pre-Christian, pre-Islamic rites needs to be considered before one can properly answer that question.
Starting with the New World where we presently find ourselves and confining ourselves to the geography of the Americas one very fitting example of the kinds of rites practiced were those of the highly advanced civilization of the Maya, the Azteca, and the Incas. Much is known about the religious rites of the Maya because such rites were carefully documented by the Spanish Conquistadors and the Jesuit priests that they bought with them to convert the natives. The religious rites of the Maya were based on human sacrifice carried out on a scale that seems almost unimaginable for the purposes of mass entertainment but also as a form of terror directed by the rulers at those whom they ruled over.
Such spectacles we have been told would sometimes involve as many as 10,000 human captives (young men taken in battle as prisoners). The famous Mayan pyramids were the site of this religious slaughter. The young men taken in battle were marched up one side of the elaborately constructed pyramid, placed of the sacrificial alter of death face up lying on their back in a way that pushed up their chest. The Mayan priest would then use a very specially prepared dagger made of obsidian or some other exceedingly sharp glass like material to scoop out the still beating heart of the captive. The priest would then lift up the still beating heart for the highly excited masses to see and then eat it (or at least a part of it).Such a rite gives new meaning to the “Eat my body drink my blood” motif of Christianity with its emphasis on eating the body and drinking the blood of God. As much as present day Christians will rear up on their hind legs to roar denunciations and excommunications against any and all who should indorse such an idea; there is nevertheless a clear line of dissent from such early savage rites to the more highly polished and refined Christian rites. The fact that Christianity with all its stains, blemishes, and atrocities committed in the name of God was a huge improvement over its savage and barbaric precursor is something so obvious as to hardly warrant comment upon.
The head was then cut off and cast down the vast flight of steps to the bottom of the pyramid followed by the mutilated body of the dead captive. There were various permutations of this barbarous rite one of which would involve the high priest flaying alive, i.e. removing the whole skin the captives and then wearing it while carrying out the remaining parts of the rite alluded to above. It boggles the mind to realize that such rites as these were not the sole domain of the New World but were practiced as well in such places as ancient Carthage with the variant being that instead of adults being the victims, children were selected and used for such purposes. No matter what sort of mud historical fakers might throw at the historical legacy of ancient Rome and its religious rites; Roman society had long ago abolished such barbaric religious rites that involved human sacrifice at the time it vanquished and destroyed Carthage. One can easily see that there was an indisputable element of progress in the victory of Rome over Carthage. One can make the same claim regarding the establishment of Spanish rule in the New World in spite of all its well documented atrocities perpetrated against the indigenous peoples of the New World.
The curious thing however was that such societies as the Maya were matriarchal societies that found their natural counterpart in the highly celebrated society of ancient Sparta that functioned in a somewhat similar manner but without all the Hollywood blood sport extravaganza of the Maya. It is important to note here that the underlying reality had nothing to do with the Western invented concept of race or ethnicity but with the nature of the social structure that such ancient societies were built upon that shared certain commonalities that were both sociological as well as psychological.
Actually in terms of the basic underlying property relationships in these societies, I believe that the evidence from such eras suggests that all such societies were slowly evolving from a matriarchal society to a patriarchal order. Roman society of the first century C.E. would be case in point for this. The Gentile groups were what the matriarchal order was based upon where all property was passed down through the female line. These aggressive warrior societies were in the process of giving way to the male dominated family structure that exists today and that we take for granted as having existed from the earliest point of human origins when in fact it is of fairly recent origin.
The overarching ethic of such warrior societies was that only those tried and true battle tested warriors who had proven their worth and value as the alpha males of the group had a right to procreate. The essence of this warrior ethic is still with us to this day. Certainly the Darwinists and their spawn the social Darwinists will tell us that this is what the survival of the fittest is all about and that this was just nature’s way of eliminating the weak males from the breeding stock and thus insuring the differential breeding success that evolutionary theory is based upon. A self serving justification if I ever heard one! The whole purpose of early pre-historic societies was for men to serve the needs of women and there is certainly an underlying biological imperative for such. Unlike in other animal species such as birds where the male is the basic default phenotype with a double X chromosome, for humans the female of the species carries the XX chromosome for its genome. Women enjoy an innate form of biological superiority over the male of the species that manifests itself in various ways many of which are social.
Only with the rise of patriarchal social structures did men begin to achieve full equality with women. The fact that at one time in our ancient human pre-history men were “mere serfs to the soil” to quote from The Dominant Sex: The History of the Reversal of Monosexual Dominance seems like an incredulous statement for those unfamiliar with this scholarly work by the anthropologists Mathilda & Mathias Verting. This came about as a result of the importance of war in defending those early societies based as they were upon matriarchal social structures that slowly evolved into patriarchal social structures giving the male new found rights to property and all else that had formerly been the exclusive domain of women. Therefore as the importance of warfare increased for these ancient societies as a means to survive and to expand territory the social status of males began to change from being “mere serfs to the soil” to valued defenders of the community whose services in war were vital to the survival of the social unit. The conflict between Carthage and Rome may have in many ways reflected a conflict between the evolving patriarchal order of Rome and still mainly matriarchal social order of Carthage.
There are still some remnants of the early matriarchy left that exist in such places as Sicily that was a colony of Sparta. Men had only one social role in such societies and that was to be a good warrior dependable even unto death in defense of the clan, tribe, or group that he was part of. Success in battle was the only way that a male could secure social status. There was a definite social logic to such early forms of civilized society in that they freed the male from all other responsibilities except war which in turn enabled such social groupings to gain the kind of acclaim that ancient Sparta was able to gain for itself before the time of its slow decline. Such a decline was no doubt due to Sparta’s inability to keep pace with the other highly creative and adoptive societies based upon trade and commerce such as Athens, Thebes, and the myriad of other places where the evolving patriarchy had opened up space for the new kind of social order based upon a money economy, trade, and commerce. Such were the distinguishing features of these newly evolved patriarchal societies where the role of the warrior gave way to the commercial tradesman.
The social role of the male thus shifted from being the warrior within the Gentile group to being the provider of the family. Women inevitably had to surrender many of their special hereditary rights under the old order to men who thus were obliged to become the defenders of women under this new and evolving social structure where social power was quite balanced equally between men and women but began to accrue heavily in favor of men as the sole providers of this new social structure called the family. Differential breeding success for the male now rested not on his success on the battlefield but on his success in supplying all the needs of the household. Much can be learned about this era of the infancy of the patriarchal order through reading of the Greek and Roman classics of this seminal era in the history of the West. A careful reading of the ancient Chinese sources will reveal a similar social dynamic at work within the evolving civilization. We’re nowhere as unique as we presume to be.
As has been pointed out by such notable authors as Merlin Stone in her book When God Was a Woman a major change came about in the religious pantheon of these ancient societies as the old Earth centered female deities were shunted aside by the rising power of the patriarchal order in favor of male representations of the gods. The Isis & Osiris myth of ancient Egypt is case in point in the way that the mother goddess Isis and her divine son became the prototype for the Mary & Jesus story of the Christian era. To speak of such thinks is anathema to the many narrow minded “Christian” fundamentalists who oppose both science and scholarship and teach that everything that the bible (both old & new testament) says is literally true. The reason for humanity’s dependence upon such myths can then be effectively closed off and an utterly non scientific non scholarly adherence to authority be taught in its stead. Such an ideological development has opened the doors (or the gates of hell) to the various fundamentalist creeds that are creating the many forms of terror and turmoil that we see in the world today and most especially in the Middle East the source of the three Abrahamic religions that base much of their appeal to a blind acceptance of authority. Since such civil authority has traditionally been taught by this narrow minded cult of the ridiculous to come from God any such questioning of the civil authority is synonymous with non belief and apostasy. Fundamentalist trends in all three of the desert religions have existed from a period roughly one hundred to three hundred years after the death of their founders.
For Christianity the world’s most popular religion with the largest number of adherents the concretization of its basic myths began with the Roman emperor Constantine the Great making early apostolic Christianity the official cult of Rome. There were numerous self serving practical consideration that led Constantine to such a decision none of which had anything to do with what he actually believed. The main consideration was the fate of the divided empire and finding a suitable ideology that could be used to once again unite a highly diverse empire that stretched from Scotland to present day Iran. The fact that there was an unspoken element of social progress in all of this seemed not to matter at the time as Constantine had more pressing practical matters to deal with. The fact that Constantine was never a baptized Christian until after or shortly before his death (the story varies) did not stop him as the head of the Roman state from presiding over the main church council that concretized the particular Christian myths chosen as the accepted dogma. Such church councils were purely political affairs of state that determined the official form that Christianity would take in the future at the expense of the many well known variants of the official narrative.
Seven hundred years later the infamous Christian Crusades of Rome which had split off from the official church founded by Constantine were a series of wars organized and perpetrated by the newly exalted “Bishop of Rome” against all other forms of Christian belief that were at variance with the official Roman cult. The work of the first crusade organized by Pope Urban I was the sacking and slaughter of Constantinople that was much worse for the Orthodox believers of Byzantium than the relatively peaceful sacking of Jerusalem. This first infamous “Christian” Crusade carried out by the Holy See ostensibly to liberate Jerusalem as a pretext for its savage attack on Constantinople could only be equaled by the utter barbarity of the last crusade carried out against the Gnostic Abigensian believers of Southern France. Such developments as these marked the rise of a fundamentalist Christian doctrine that in our own time formed the basis of Protestant fundamentalism in America. The Roman Catholic Church in spite of having been the originators of this concretization of the Christian myth has long ago relaxed in stance of such things so that today the dogmatic version of Roman Catholic fundamentalism competes with many of the early Gnostic myths that have survived into the present era and are experiencing a renaissance.
One hundred years after the death of the Prophet Mohammed the ugly teachings of salifism raised its head within the Ummaa of the faithful. There are many Islamaphobics who make the erroneous claim that the savage barbarism perpetrated by such kafirs as IS/ISIS/ISIL/Daesh has a legitimacy based upon the teachings of the Quran but never the Haddiths which constitute and elaborate and extensive history and commentary of the life of the Prophet Mohammed and his early followers. The need for an official version of the Quran and the Haddiths occurred about the same time that the early salifists raised their ugly head in an effort to concretized the early myths, legends, and oral traditions that could serve the early khalifate. The resurrection of the salifist doctrine in our own time has been the result of influence of Wahabbism the official cult of Arabia that has been exported to all areas of the globe through the financial largess of the Al-Saud dynasty. The results of this are apparent in the news every day now as the savagery of these kafiri cults becomes magnified through the means and methods of the mass media and instantaneous electronic communication. Such diabolical exploits as these renegades are responsible now stand in for the more mystical teachings and traditions of Sufism that these salifist elements have declared jihad on in the same way that they have declared war on modernity itself. The social sickness that these Salifists represent stands in direct contradiction to the healing and health promoting value of myth in all its various and myriad manifest qualities.
The rise of Zionism as an officially sanctioned creed of belief with Judaism stands in equal measure to the social poison of the other two dominant fundamentalist doctrines of the other Abrahamic religions. Such rabbinical teachings that serve as the justification for the slaughter of civilians in Gaza is every bit the equal of the other forms of fundamentalism that have sought to dominate both Christianity and Islam. Owing to the power and social prestige of the rabbinical tradition within Judaism little discussion is ever heard of the way that the Torah, the Talmud, and the Mishna have been selectively subverted to serve a decidedly political purpose in our own time and the threat that this subversion of a much broader tradition represents for Judaism itself. The actions of the secular state in Israel based upon ethnic exclusivism in the land of Zion is every bit the counterpart to the cancer of Islam that Salifism constitutes in all its various manifestations.
One purpose in writing this essay is to indicate how religious myth lent itself to becoming what Richard Dawkins has labeled “an organized form of cruelty” without also indicting religious myths themselves that when used properly can have enormous curative value for troubled humanity. Indeed it is the inhumanity of the fundamentalists who seek to use religion for political purposes that requires the concretization of its chosen repitour from the vast opus of the prevailing religious myths that constitutes the cancer of the three Abrahamic religions. The transpersonal psychology of Carl G. Jung and his followers was based upon understanding the role that myths have played down though the ages in giving meaning to life. Myths play an important part in life in that they represent archetypes that Jung claimed were actually living entities that grow and develop as they are passed on down from one era to the next. Although this belief that the archetypes are actual living entities may be a bridge to far for many people and has to do with how one defines life as opposed to the underlying psychic reality that such archetypes do indeed exist and that they form the basis for all sorts of myths the most important of which may be the religious myths.
If it’s true that as Rene Guenon the Sufi mystic claimed that “Intellectualism is the highest form of spirituality” then its easy to understand how all fundamentalist doctrines work to stifle free thought and free expression in an effort to protect and defend the various forms of savage barbarity carried out by authoritarian regimes from time immemorium to the present. Such fundamentalist dogma is therefore not only interested in suppressing the kind of intellectualism that can challenge the despots and knock them off their high perches; fundamentalist dogma seeks to suppress spirituality itself. Such an ironic reality never seems to be worthy of mention by those who make there living in the media and elsewhere terrorizing viewers and readers with the savagery of these groups in an effort to secure political and social objectives.
The fact that religion according to Freud and others was a necessary social evil that was needed to civilize the human race and make living in large urban communities possible should also be mentioned and fully considered by authors such as Dawkins whose work is of real value but neglects to consider this civilizing role of religion down through the ages. Its entirely possible even probable that we have entered a new age where myths of all sorts have less value for us than in bygone eras where they were responsible for shaping reality and imparting the meaning to life that was desperately needed in an era dominated by meaningless savagery. As we long ago retired the gods so today it is perhaps time to admit to ourselves that we have in fact relegated God to some far off corner on the Universe to be casually forgotten about. Is science indeed the new religion of our new era or is it about time that we disregard religion altogether and just concentrate upon the facts.
As Sargent Joe Friday used to say: “Just the facts, Mam.” Perhaps that is the best way to live in this Brave New World Order that challenges us all learn to think anew and thus disenthrall ourselves from the barbarism of the past.
Note-this piece was originally posted to Open Salon on 02-24-2015