Friday, September 4, 2009

A History Of God

Included in the ten plus books I am currently reading is Karen Armstrong's A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Wow.  I must say I'm taking my time with this one.  I'm marking it up, making notes and sitting with it as much as possible. Lots to integrate.

The book is basically a historical look at the evolution of God.  It follows the formation of god stories across the world and places them in the context of history, religion and politics.  

I find it so very interesting to see the Bible in the context of other religious writings at the time. I can see how much of the Biblical writers were influenced by their contemporaries, often pagan and non-monotheistic.  This is a very different perspective than the one I was raised with as a Jehovah's Witness. The Watchtower (the organization that oversees the JW's) severely dumbed down their translation of the Bible, not to mention their sadly myopic interpretation of Biblical texts. Of course, I have no interest in debating the merit of one translation over another, or getting into an argument around Biblical interpretation, but even a cursory study of religious history and language is enough to show that religions, in general, are adept at using the written word for their own political and personal agendas.  

Another point I find interesting is the perspective towards god concepts over time.  In speaking of early mythology, Armstrong writes:

"These myths were not intended to be taken literally, but were metaphorical attempts to describe a reality that was too complex and elusive to express in any other way.  These dramatic and evocative stories of gods and goddesses helped people to articulate their sense of the powerful but unseen forces that surrounded them."  (p. 5, trade paperback edition)

So, when did this shift? When did certain religious adherents decide to take their gods so literally?  And so very seriously.  When did fiction shift into fact? And how do we shift it back? Can it be shifted back?  I hope I can glean some perspective as I read along.  

Two years ago, reading a book like A History of God would have made me sink into a dark depression, feeling duped by my religious upbringing and the time I lost within it.  Now, it makes me laugh. I find humanity and our stories fascinating, entertaining even.  We are the greatest show on earth.  

tall penguin


Rich said...

I find it interesting that so many people think that the Bible is ancient, but it seems to me modern. The Torah might not date back to much earlier than the Achaemenid Persian empire in the 6th century BC but we have works of literature dating back to the third millennium BC. For example, the oldest "pyramid texts" go back to around 2400BC, which is almost twice as old as the Bible!

tall penguin said...

Indeed. It's funny when you look at it all in context. I had such a limited perspective as a JW. I can say it's only marginally expanded now. So much to learn. I'm having such fun though.

Ganga Fondan said...

I was reading this morning:
"All imaging of God, if the word is going to mean anything besides "this is what my Mother taught me," is supposed to refer to that which transcends all knowledge, all naming, all forming, and consequently the word has to point past itself. In our tradition, the idea of God is so strongly personified as a persoan that you get stuck with that problem whenever you think of God.

God is not an illusion,
but a symbol pointing beyond itself
to the realization of the mystery
of at-one-ment." - Joseph Campbell

tall penguin said...

Wow, Ganga, great words. On both counts.

secretlifeofgayle said...

I, too, love all the different religious interpretations and evolution. I'm also glad I'm not the only one who reads multiple books at the same time.

billp said...

I really appreciate the Bible in it's revelation of truth. The truth about the time it was written. If you look at Genesis you see so much more once you leave the JW belief system. Why would god curse people for building a ziggurat in Bablyon and then reveal it to Jacob in the form of a ladder. Once, you realize the context of the beliefs of the time. That angels ascended up and down these structures you can gain more perspective.

You can also see the development of god belief. From polythiestic to henothiestic to monothiestic. It is all right there in the old testament.

This doesn't even touch upon all the crazy sex stuff.

I feel very humbled thinking I had the one and only TRUTH and being so ignorant.

The mendacity.