Humans have two choices. Well, we actually have millions of choices, but for the purpose of this post, we have two.
Believe in a divinity that guides our lives and controls the universe, or in a universe that guides itself, leaving us basically on our own.
Strike that. There may just be a third choice in there somewhere. Yes. At least for the purpose of this post. The belief in a divine entity that no organized religion has yet described, defined, or even remotely gotten close to. Remember, there have been thousands of organized religions throughout the centuries, and thousands of deities on display. Putting them side by side for a moment, letting them hash out their differences across time and space, might just bring us the world’s greatest jam session. Or, the mother of all headaches. Devotees would root for their own, passionately, obstinately, vigorously. Perhaps more than just vigorously.
To me, the fact that there have been so many iterations of deities, so many attempts to describe and re-describe the mystery of life, so many varied forms of worship, means that the search goes on and must go on. Perhaps forever. It means that different contexts, cultures and geographies create different sets of needs, fears and yearnings, which lead inevitably to different iterations and forms of questing, questioning and worship.
Power, empire and coercion, of course, throw an arbitrary wrench into this natural process and reduce the number of organically evolving forms. They homogenize and commodify. They limit, narrow, direct and conserve. They inject orthodoxy, dogma and doctrine into a process that is, by definition, the greatest, most open-ended search we make in our own minds. Or could make, if we were truly free.
If we were truly free to have long walks and talks with ourselves, without the whole world buzzing about, without our parents and the society as a whole trying to direct us toward this or that belief . . . .
But time will not be suspended indefinitely. There will eventually be more iterations, incarnations, and new justifications for yet more divine forms. Religions will rise and fall and the fortunes of those running the show will rise and fall. Their organizations, restrictions, repressions and orthodoxies will fade into the proverbial dustbin of history. It was always thus.
End Times? Last Days? Pretty much all religions, across time, across the globe have posited those things. Ironically, rather than their prophecies ever coming true (we’re still here, right?), the only things that seem to reach those End Times are the religions and empires themselves.
Back to that deity yet to be named. If I am to believe in a divine being, I can’t believe in one that controls the universe and individual lives. It just brings about too many problems for me, intellectually. To boil it all down to its essence: suffering and laughter. A city is destroyed, a war rages, famine engulfs, while others live healthy, happy, long lives filled with joy and laughter. Not to mention, whole species disappear. New species evolve. Of course, there’s a lot more to it than just that, but that’s probably the main factor for me. Life just doesn’t have the look and feel of anything “planned.” Genocides and prom nights are too great a divergence for me to handle.
That said, I can see the possibility of a divine being that created the universe and moved on. That makes sense to me, if I’m going to believe in a divine source at all. A deist view, basically. The one that most of the American founders held.
Of course, I readily see the benefits of belief. The comfort it brings to millions. The inner strength. The sense of purpose. And, of course, as an artist I can’t help but rejoice in the beauty created in the name of those deities through time. The artistic expression of spiritual yearning, questing and questioning has enriched all cultures.
Still, I wonder, and questions, a multitude of questions, remain. If there is only one, then why have we seen thousands? Why has there been so much variety, diversity, so many powerful expressions of the numinous through the centuries? With expression that diverse and powerful, can anyone claim to know that the mystery has been solved once and for all? And should we really want it solved?