Putting Things in Perspective

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Every ancient culture had its myths about the creation of the world. Some of the more apocalyptically-minded of those cultures also had their myths about the end of the world. Not surprisingly, the more apocalyptically-minded cultures tended to be those that had suffered invasions and hegiras – like the “Israelites” of the Bible.

If those cultures endured long enough, and their myths became sufficiently entrenched as received wisdom, a professional class emerged whose job it was to provide commentary on those myths. They were the lawyer/philosopher class, represented (for instance) by the Pharisees. Their job was to “lawyer the Bible,” to use Bill Maher’s felicitous coinage. They teased apart the various convoluted points of “divine revelation” for practical application and constructed elaborate schemes of interpretation to make sense of nonsense. The Kabala tradition of the Middle Ages is an example of this; the Dispensationalism of fundamentalist Christians furnishes a more recent example.

Whenever cultures came into collision – as they have done repeatedly during the history of Europe and the Middle East – it was the job of the lawyer/philosopher class to synthesize their teachings in order to reduce the friction between them. Thus ancient Judaism took on trappings of Egyptian and Persian religion, and more recently, “Saint” Paul – one of the lawyer/philosopher class – made a synthesis of Jewish and Hellenic teachings. That synthesis is called “Christianity.”

It is one of the unfortunate accidents of history – owing largely to an edict of a Roman emperor who was concerned that his decaying empire was coming apart at the seams and he’d damn well do something to secure it – that Christianity took hold in Europe and enslaved the minds of hundreds of generations of human beings over the past two millennia. And here is what those human beings believe:

Man was created in the image of God at some point during the past 10,000 years or so. Because of a mistake of judgment, man “fell” and toil, suffering and death became his lot. (That, so far, is based on the Hebrew myths.) But a savior – a “cosmic Christ” modeled by “Saint” Paul partly on some very old myths (Mithras, Osiris, Heracles, etc.) and partly on tales then current of an enlightened teacher in Palestine who was reputed to be a miracle worker – came to “redeem” us from this “Original Sin” and restore us to fellowship with God, who after our death will receive us into his kingdom if we believe these things. (That part is based on the Hellenic myths.)

That “cosmic Christ” will return in glory at the End of Days to put a stop to this present evil world and usher in the everlasting kingdom of God. (Here, we’re back to Hebrew apocalypticism.)

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The fact of evolution kneecaps this whole scheme. The human species was not specially created: it emerged gradually by the mechanism of Natural Selection, working on genetic variation that occurs naturally. There was no “fall.” There is no need for “redemption.” Those are fairy tales, and they are not useful. They lead to some gross misconceptions and to wasted lives, to say nothing of bloodshed in the name of abstruse doctrinal differences. People who are all grown-up no longer believe in Santa Claus, no matter how real he may have seemed to them when they were children. The same applies to the various gods who still hold sway over the minds of human beings who are endowed with enough cerebral capacity to know better.

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