7 Billboards You’ll (probably) Never See. Day Six: Popular Mythologies
[one_half padding=”4px 8px 0 4px”]People have always created gods as they’ve had a need for them. My late father, a Southern Baptist pastor whose views he considered conservative now seem at the very least moderate compared to today’s denomination, frequently explained that the need for God was inherent in man because there was no other way to explain the things their minds could not understand. Prior to Galileo, humans thought the universe revolved around the earth because God had placed it at the center of the universe. Before Sir Issac Newton’s ponderings on why apples fall from trees educated people used God to explain what we now call gravity. Wherever there is a void in understanding, humans have filled the empty intellectual space with deity; sometimes a great number of them. When one looks at the process over time, it really is rather amusing.
Finding the very beginning of religion is difficult because its earliest traditions and stories were strictly oral. If one considers the remnants of ritualistic burial behavior, an almost-certain sign of religious activity, religion was present as early as 250,000 BCE. Those ancient mythologies were polytheistic with the number of deities varying dramatically from tribe to tribe. While tracking ancient Asian and Northern European mythologies is difficult, we know that by 5000 BCE semi-nomadic peoples along the Nile River, what would eventually become Egypt, had a very elaborate set of deities and as that society developed, their leaders, called Pharaohs, were assigned deistic power, beginning a long mythological tradition of god-men.
Around 3000 BCE, once language was largely codified in textual form, the number of recognizable mythologies seems to explode. Actually, most of these are formalized versions of more ancient oral myths, but setting them to print had the effect of universalizing the belief system so that it remained consistent from one location to another and also established a more firm code of discipline for those whose behavior put them outside their mythology. Religion was a critical part of keeping society together in this age and no one even considered questioning what was being handed down from generation to generation. They had no desire, no curiosity, to know about things outside the very dangerous and frequently lethal realities of the here and now.[/one_half]
[one_half_last padding=”4px 4px 0 8px”]Most of the religions we recognize now had their beginnings between 500 BCE and 500 CE. Everything from Buddhism to Zoroastrianism, Christianity to Islam are all born during or near this period (Islam didn’t actually begin until the seventh century). Religion during this period is cultural with belief systems giving definition to specific people groups. By the time Constantine The Great became emperor in 306 CE, religion’s political influence had grown to the point that it became a part of his government. Expansion of the Roman Empire under Constantine not only meant administrative and financial reform, but saw the first significant spread of a religion outside its base geography. One’s religious beliefs became more of a political statement than a matter of actual faith.
Education and travel led to challenges within the world’s major religions and by the 17th century Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism had all split into a number of different sects or denominations that reflected changes in social attitudes. People of reason, who had been hiding quietly amongst themselves began to loudly question the validity of a first-century god in modern society and fewer of them were being killed for their opposition. The concept of a secular government, as opposed to a religiously dominated one, took hold and fostered significant revolutions most notably in the United States but also in France and Russia, eventually spreading across much of Europe and Asia with the political concepts of socialism and communism.
We continue to morph belief systems to fit our social needs and fill the gaps in our understanding to the point those early founders would likely not recognize their religions today. Reason and dependence on science has developed into its own cult, sparring with more traditional belief systems. Present an idea, give it a snazzy title and a great website, and someone will bite. Today’s billboard isn’t anti-religion but a statement of the obvious. Some people will believe anything, which makes all belief systems suspect and none fit for government.
Maybe today’s billboard isn’t so unrealistic after all.[/one_half_last]