“Ritual” – Observing a Servile Culture

It’s a useless waste of time
Useless waste of time
Forms imposed change nothing
Why fool yourself with lies
To believe in something?
Useless waste of time
Why try?

The blind bind
To ritual games
Their fears pacified
In false security
You hide in your mind
Narcotic states of faith
Ordained thoughts to mirror
Immortality

Paint, pierce, remove, resize
Mindlessly mutilate and mime
Replay the paradigm
Paint, pierce, remove, resize, baptize

The grind designed
To stifle change
The years pass you by
In mock stability
You follow your tribe
Flaunting the flesh with marks of paint
Mindless masses grapple
With eternity

Right hand raised
Left on this book
So help me, God
An oath I took

Paint, pierce, remove, resize
Mindlessly mutilate and mime
Replay the paradigm
Paint, pierce, remove, resize, baptize

Don’t ask why
Reason denied
Why pray?
‘Cause it’s our way
Should I
Even reply?
Why pray
When it’s all the same?!

Lyrics © Joshua J. Reynolds 2014. All rights reserved.

“Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.” — Frederick Douglass (“The Hypocrisy of American Slavery”)

Frederick Douglass. Wikipedia.

Frederick Douglass. Wikipedia.

I once visited a strange, foreign land. I was shocked to witness its people habitually engaged in activities that seemed exceedingly irrational. It was amusing to observe how progressive and free they presumed to be culturally and as individuals. For, unknown to them, a deep-rooted tribalism of the most servile sort dictated most of aspects of their lives.

For instance, certain tribes would drill holes into their members’ flesh, highlighting the openings with pebbles of various shapes and sizes. Many of these members would also allow certain people to carve obscure sketches and symbols into their skin in exchange for goods and services. At first, those receiving such modifications would express discomfort, which led me to believe that the process was punitive. But upon completion, the subject would leap up with an expression of deep pride and quickly gained admiration and praise from peers.

Oddly, the individuals involved in this rite seemed to assume that it provided them with a means of self-expression and individuality. But nothing could have been further from the truth, as the presence and style of the markings was always determined according to the expectations of a particular group. Indeed, the entire point of allowing oneself to be marked in such ways was to display the markings as a sort of public announcement of belonging. Rarely, if ever, did the markings remain concealed and personal.

In addition to self-mutilation, loud barbaric noises were common as a method of proving one’s tribal identity, status and supposed worth. One group, for instance, would move about public spaces while creating deafening roars with devices that they had affixed to the flashy carriages on which they would travel. They would also wear flamboyant clothing, often stamped with the emblems of the tribe that assembled those carriages, thus marking their perceived territory both visually and sonically.

Most females of this land were perplexing. They would vigorously protest and make all sorts of noise whenever a male or some other tribe attempted to exercise control over their bodies. One almost got the impression that they were attempting to defend some sense of personal freedom. But that impression faded quickly, as such females would just go on in fear of shame to decorate and dye their bodies in the various ways that their own tribe, esp. the male members, expected of them. Hair, eyes, lips, nails, skin, artificial body parts, stilts to increase height — not a single aspect of their appearance could be considered free or personal.

mutilateWhenever an infant was born, the adults would not fully accept it unless a local shaman had taken a sharp rock and sliced away portions of its tiny genitalia, thus marking tribal membership in yet another bloody manner. Similar tribes would shun their newborns until a man who dressed differently from the rest had doused the helpless infant in water over which he had waved his hands. During these senseless rites, the infant would usually scream in pain or fear. But the parents and other adult witnesses did not seem to care. After all, the pride that followed upon this fresh sense of belonging far outweighed in their savage minds the physical pain and distress they were inflicting upon the child.

The selection of leaders in this culture was equally bizarre. Whenever the stars had returned to a certain position in the sky, certain loud individuals who happened to have more possessions (and thus power and status) than the others would stand before crowds of people while uttering the same sounds and performing the same gestures over and over, just as other such individuals had done so many times before.

The whole ritual, I believe, was some sort of collective form of role-play in which tribe members would act as though they had free choice, much as a rain dancer attempts in his actions to recreate, and thus control, the rain. The two most notable contenders would pretend to oppose one another and behave as if they represented not only one tribe or the other, but also the entire populace and its descendants. But the contenders themselves clearly had little in common with the people and rarely any clue or concern about what was really best for the community. The crowd would then divide into two halves, each side shouting at the other, often in mockery, though they were expressing essentially the same ideas.

Following the shouting performance, members of each tribe would raise their hands to select one of two most notable individuals, while a group of chieftains from each tribe would pretend to tally all the raised hands. For some reason, these exceedingly odd people believed that the best policy was always the one that the majority — no matter how slight — believed was best, as if there was some sort of mystical authority in larger numbers but not lesser ones.

When the ritual was complete, the new leaders would then cease making those inspiring noises and gestures, often even proceeding to make opposite ones. They would then continue to preoccupy themselves with amassing possessions, power and status, all at the people’s expense — both those who did and those who did not select them to lead.

The two previously opposed tribes, however, would no longer care about hearing those noises and seeing the gestures to which they had once reacted so passionately. Instead they would simply return to their daily routines, drudging through lives that this silly little ritual hadn’t improved much at all, and living right alongside members of the tribe that they had not so long before vehemently opposed.

The single most perplexing aspect of this primitive society was its members’ apparent admiration for something they called ‘free-dum’. They appeared to believe that this idea was inherently important and necessary to their society — that is, if one can say that any idea at all lay behind what was largely just inarticulate grunting. In fact, whenever the tribes selected their leaders, they would show most interest in those individuals who promised to protect the ‘free-dum’ of all tribes. The reality, however, was that the tribes were selecting leaders to restrict, suppress, remove and trample ‘free-dum’ because the presence of this thing, which they pretended to value so highly, in truth made most of them feel very frightened.

A case in point: One of the most ancient rituals in this society involved the exchange of polished white stones between two members of the oldest tribes. The exchange was meant to symbolize a pledge of bondage between the two individuals. None of the other tribes had ever participated in this ritual or even seemed to care about it. I presume the reason for disinterest was this: The ritual required making unrealistic promises, and it often ended in the unhappiness of the two people involved, who were forced to remain together regardless of significant changes in feelings, lest the leaders become involved and exercise an even greater control over their lives.

markingsAnyway, in recent times, the leaders did become more involved in this bondage ritual in general and began to pressure people into taking part. They did so by agreeing to compel two people bound together in this way to surrender fewer of their possessions to the leaders than they would have been forced to surrender if they had remained unbound. Naturally, the newer tribes now wanted to take part in the bondage-stone rite. After all, why should the leaders take more from them just because they hadn’t gone through some silly ancient ritual?

So the new tribes joined together and began to grunt the socially prescribed refrain ‘free-dum’, ‘free-dum’. This of course caught the attention of the leaders, whose job it was to pretend to defend ‘free-dum’. It also caught the attention of some of the older tribes, who felt the need to protect their ritual by denying this ‘free-dum’ to the newer tribes. This, of course, was odd because the older tribes strongly pretended to value ‘free-dum’ in general. They even agreed that every tribe should have equal access to ‘free-dum’. And yet, these older tribes refused to allow the newer tribes access to the polished stones.

Naturally, the newer tribes became confused and angry. They complained to the leaders and insisted that the older tribes should be forced to provide access to those little white stones. It was not right, they felt, for the older tribes to refuse to comply with the wishes of the newer tribes. This was not ‘free-dum’, they cried.

In response, the older tribes also complained to the leaders. Some simply asked that they not be forced to provide the others with the white stones. But some among the older tribes, who found the behavior of the newer tribes offensive, went so far as to ask the leaders to prevent the other tribes from taking part in the bondage-stone ritual. To seal their request, they added a loud cry of ‘free-dum’, much as other, similarly primitive societies follow up expressions of their own hopeless wishes with ‘a-men’.

Now then, as it would happen, it was some of the newer tribes who supplied the polishing materials to the older tribes to prepare the bondage-stones. So in retaliation, these newer tribes refused to sell their materials to all the older tribes as a sort of punishment for what they deemed to be offensive behavior. The newer tribes then shouted ‘free-dum’ and continued to ask the leaders to force the older tribes to sell them bondage-stones for their own rituals. “All tribes exist to serve the public,” they cried. “So no tribe should be allowed to refuse to provide service to any of the others!” At the same time, however, the newer tribes continued to refuse to provide service to the older tribes.

I have provided here just one small example of this barbaric society’s contradictory treatment of an idea that the majority of its people can rightly be said to value only superficially. Despite this pretense, I am convinced that the ideals held in highest esteem by most of its members were two: 1) controlling individuals by asserting tribal identity; and 2) submitting to authority, whether the presumed authority of the leaders or of the tribe itself. ‘Free-dum’ rarely entered genuinely into their thoughts or actions, while conformity and social servitude predominated.

coerceUpon leaving this land, I was pleased to return to the rationality of my own world, where freedom and individuality would never succumb to socio-political pressure and tribalism. In retrospect, I concluded that the primitive obsession with social control that I had witnessed was a defense mechanism. The fear of change and death was so strong amongst the tribes that they would do and believe anything to convince themselves that they had some sort of purchase on immortality. Tribe and tradition, they believed on some subconscious level, would always outlast the individuals who comprised them.

The problem I see with this, however, is that repetitive, patterned behavior still does not qualify as permanence. Nor does expecting others to acknowledge marks of tribal affiliation serve to reveal anything relevant about the character of the individual or group that bears those marks.

Just because one ball team uses the same name, uniforms and logos as a team that played the game fifty years ago, does this mean that it has anything substantial in common with its predecessor? Do the symbols make the team? Does a group deserve respect and obedience simply in light of how it represents itself publicly? The inhabitants of the primitive, slavish nation I have just described would undoubtedly grunt in the affirmative.

© Joshua J. Reynolds 2014. All rights reserved.

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“The Source”

From Chaos waters Time first nods
From Night born the light of Day
Mother Earth, raped by Sky, bares Titan gods
Bound and locked away

Mutilated by his son
Raining blood, utters a curse
Child devoured, prophecy is done
Father burns, lightning is hurled

For ten years storm-god rages on
Forests burned, seas boiled away
Final threat, flaming roar, eyes hundreds strong
Crushed by mountain, slain

All birth grows from what it is not
Fated in cycles of war
Aggression devastates
But fails to dominate
Destined return to the source

By cosmic planning Time moves on
Four seasons, fixed stars and Fate
Warming sun up at dawn, the moon’s motion
Gods give Nature her rightful place

Uncompleted world undone
Divine image, a creature to serve
Fruit of truth, tree of life, temptation
Fire burns as man yearns to learn

Innocence, a place of peace
(Painless bliss, joyous feasts)
Prosperous, a life of awe
(Peaceful deaths to live with gods)

But imbalance must be righted
Your delight can’t last for long
Opened eyes, mind enlightened
Happiness, an illusion

Curses, anger
Race doomed to failure
Forever toil
Until blood turns to soil

Time of Iron, man’s decline
Faithless children born with hairs of grey
Cities sacked, parents slain, jealousy and lies
God’s image proves its own hate

Inundated by the flood
Helpless cries damned to drown at birth
Love divine buries life deep within the mud
Will Father learn when taking his turn?

All birth grows from what is not
(Force from flaw, sick from sane)
Fated in cycles of war
(Win needs fail, frail needs strength)

Transgression throws its weight
But scales fluctuate
Destined return to the source
(Death the price for our gain)

Lyrics © Joshua J. Reynolds 2014. All rights reserved.


“The Source” is a song about origins — specifically, how things tend to originate in violence and death. The lyrics are based on a book I am writing that offers a satirical look at ancient myths concerning the beginning of the universe and mankind. Like the book, the lyrics amalgamate an assortment of such myths to focus on their similar origins, plot structures and themes.

Despite the convictions of devout Christians, there is very little that is unique or authoritative about the stories from the so-called ‘Bible’. I summarize below the Bible’s main themes concerning creation, which also happen to turn up in much older Mesopotamian myths, as well as those from ancient Greece.

  1. The creation of the world as a separation of opposites from a primal chaos: Separation of light from dark, as well as the waters above and waters below the sky in the Hebrew Genesis; Separation of fresh water (Apsu) and salt water (Tiamat) in the Babylonian Enuma Elish; Separation of earth and sky, as well as day and night in Greek mythology, esp. Hesiod’s Theogony.
  2. The world as a flat disk floating on water covered by a solid, domed roof of sky/stars: Hebrew Genesis; Babylonian Enuma Elish; Greek myth, esp. Homer’s Iliad and Hesiod’s Theogony.
  3. The supremacy of a storm/sky-god who sets primal chaos in order: Hebrew Elohim/Yahweh; Babylonian Marduk; Greek Zeus.
  4. A storm/sky-god who battles and defeats terrible, disorderly monsters: Yahweh vs. Leviathan and Behemoth (Hebrew Job; Psalms); Marduk vs. Tiamat and her demons, snakes, dragons, scorpion-men and bull-men; Hittite Teshub vs. the dragon-monster Illuyanka; Zeus vs. Typhon.
  5. The creation of mankind from some earthly or biological material to serve the gods and/or to tend to divine gardens: Hebrew Yahweh’s creation of Adam and Eve from soil/human rib; Sumerian Enki and Earth create first humans from the blood of a dead god, mud and spit; Babylonian Marduk creates people from the blood of an enemy; the Greek gods create the first woman out of clay.
  6. After the work of creation is complete, the mighty storm/sky-god feels the need to rest: Hebrew Elohim; Babylonian Marduk.
  7. The storm/sky-god sends a flood that wipes out most of mankind as punishment for their wickedness and/or annoyance: Noah in Hebrew myth; Ziusudra in Sumerian myth; Atrahasis in Akkadian myth; Utnapishtim in the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh; Deucalion in Greek myth.
  8. A trickster deity who defies the storm/sky-god and promotes human knowledge: Hebrew Satan; Mesopotamian Enki/Ea; Greek Prometheus.
  9. Woman as troublesome temptress and her curiosity, which leads to human suffering: Hebrew Eve and her tantalizing fruit; Greek Pandora and her alluring box.
  10. The decline of mankind from paradise and the corresponding divine curse: Adam and Eve in Hebrew myth; Prometheus story in Greek myth; Pandora story in Greek myth; The Five Ages of mankind in the Greek Hesiod’s Works and Days.

These ten themes represent some of the well-known parallels that anyone with half a brain can pursue in much greater detail using any reliable online or offline source.

Now then, possible reactions to these striking commonalities might include:

1) Ignore the obvious parallels (just as you might ignore the Bible’s obvious contradictions and injustices) and stand firm by your faith that biblical stories are unique and authoritative. It is certainly acceptable to believe whatever you want to believe, but only as long as you keep it to yourself. You should not attempt to convert others or influence public policy according to those beliefs any more than you should persecute, violate or harm others for not sharing them.

2) Take the approach of the theologian, who will attempt to explain away the parallels (as well as the contradictions and injustices) according to some subtle and sophisticated theory that only the handful of experts with advanced degrees and years of Ivory Tower isolation would stand a chance of understanding. Such theories tend to appeal to arguments concerning mistranslation, offering instead the “correct,” “original” meaning of a relevant Hebrew or Greek term.

Now this is certainly admirable work, since it does make use of reason and evidence, as opposed to faith, which is by its very nature non-rational and close-minded. The only problem is that my salvation should not have to depend both on my acceptance of the Bible and of some random scholar’s intricate interpretation of it.

I mean, the Bible is ‘the Book’, right? It’s meant to stand alone, wholly sufficient in its supposed truth and authority. One shouldn’t require a Ph.D. to understand it any more than one should be required to know ancient Hebrew and Greek. Indeed, if only a select few can understand the real meaning of the Bible’s original wording, then all the more reason to conclude that it was not written for modern lay people.

Russell Crowe's

Russell Crowe’s “Noah.” Paramount Pictures. 2014.

3) Or we might take a rational approach, which realizes that the Bible’s stories, as all stories, were derived from prior and contemporaneous human sources. This means, in turn, that they cannot be, at least not directly, the ‘word of god’. In other words, the Bible has a traceable history of development and transmission, often using non-Jewish and non-Christian sources. One might respond by saying, e.g., that the five different flood narratives describe the same historical event (i.e., the “biblical flood”). But this still neglects to address the presence and influence of different deities who are fundamentally at odds with the Jewish/Christian god.

Anyway, in addition to these ten general parallels, “The Source” also touches on the theme of strife between divine parents and their children, esp. the conflict between father and son. In Greek mythology, Cronus mutilates the genitals of his father, king Uranus, who in turn curses his son. Now king himself, Cronus swallows his own children to prevent himself from being overthrown. But his own child, Zeus, outwits him and defeats his father in an epic battle.

Goya. Saturn Devouring His Son. Wikipedia.

Goya. Saturn Devouring His Son. Wikipedia.

Likewise, the Babylonian Apsu plots to destroy his great-great grandchild Ea, who eventually prevails, just as Tiamat plots to destroy her great-great-great grandchild Marduk, who goes on to become king of the gods. And finally, in the Hittite myth Kingship in Heaven, Kumarbi challenges and mutilates the genitals of his own father, Anush, while Kumarbi’s own son Teshub later defeats him and goes on to rule universe.

Of course, we find none of this bloody, parent vs. child power struggle between the Christian god and Jesus. Jesus does not try to overthrow his father or snip off his genitalia (although, given the maleness of this god, we must assume anatomical correctness). Jesus, however, does get to share the keys to the divine kingdom, but only after dear old dad treats him to a bloody death on the cross, which is what ends up setting things right in the world… somehow.

Artemision Bronze. Wikipedia.

Artemision Bronze. Wikipedia.

No… Jesus and daddy don’t go head to head in Christian mythology. But the Judeo-Christian god still harbors significant insecurity regarding his rule. That is, he constantly struggles with his human children – cursing, destroying, punishing and denying them the possession of knowledge and power. Divine jealously is what links the Judeo-Christian god to Zeus and Marduk.

As an aside, it is silly that these Star Wars-style fairy tales and ancient metaphors of rule and kingship still mean anything to rational people in this day and age. I myself have never seen or met a king or lord. I have never lived under a kingship or in a kingdom. I have never been ruled and so have no idea what the experience is like. Lords and kings and kingships are completely foreign to me. So I have no idea why Christians today try to communicate with me, others and themselves in these and similarly archaic terms.

The

The “Lamb of God”

I mean, I had a father growing up. So I somewhat understand what it might mean to say that some god or another is my ‘heavenly father’. But ‘lord in heaven’ and ‘kingdom of god’? No clue whatsoever. Such talk is to me as senseless as the Christian obsession with lambs, esp. Jesus as the ‘lamb of god’. What I am saying is that I couldn’t care less about lambs. I don’t find them particularly appealing or interesting (except on a skewer). So why the hell do Christians try to convince me to join their cult with so much talk of lambs?!?!

When you tell me that Jesus is the ‘lamb of god’, what I hear this: “Blah bleo laoc lk eyznho euohdoa… lamb.” So please… just stop with the ‘lamb’ talk. And while you’re at it, cut out all the ‘lord’ and ‘kingdom’ nonsense, the references to the archaic ritual of ‘sacrifice’, and the creepy business about how eating god’s ‘body’ and ‘drinking’ his blood is going to bring me eternal happiness. The bleating of a lamb makes more sense to me than that sort of gibberish.

Mmmmmm

Mmmmmm

To wrap up: Even as the Greeks and Jews were telling myths to understand their world, early philosophers began to offer naturalistic explanations of the principles those stories represented. Instead of a violent struggle and succession of gods leading from chaos to order, Anaximander, for instance, argued that cosmic order consists in a balance of opposites (hot/cold, war/peace, justice/injustice, etc.), each side attacking and replacing the other according to a natural, impersonal cycle. No one side prevails for long, before it is replaced by something else, which in turn will succumb to its opposition. This sort of explanation was meant to be a rational alternative to stories of anthropomorphic gods imposing order by dominating enemies and subjugating supposedly wicked human beings.

Anaximander relief. Wikipedia.

Anaximander relief. Wikipedia.

The same goes for myths themselves. Just like everything else, stories about the gods change over time as they are borrowed, inherited, assimilated, edited, censored, spun, omitted, transformed, die and resurrect in new forms according to cultural, temporal and geographical variations. The upshot is this: if one myth’s death is another’s birth, then I see no point in debating with believers. Even if you convince them of the absurdity of their beliefs, you’ll just end up with another, similarly ridiculous, story as the new supposedly authoritative tale.

I don’t want to give Christians any ideas on how to speak more relevantly to their modern audience, but I would not be surprised if two-thousand years from now rational people find themselves dumbfounded as to why the predominant religion of their time speaks of god as the ‘Divine CEO’ or ‘President in Heaven’. Maybe that will make about as much sense to them as ‘Lord’ and ‘King’ should make to us.

Oh. I get it. I'm a believer now!

Oh. I get it. I’m a believer now!

© Joshua J. Reynolds 2014. All rights reserved.