7 Billboards You’ll (probably) Never See. Day Six: Popular Mythologies
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.
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.