AN INTERVIEW WITH the 2,000 Year Old Man (1963 RCA Victor recording. Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner give an eyewitness account of world history): "How did religion start?"
"In the beginning we worshipped a guy named Phil. Phil was big and mean and we used to pray to him 'Oh Phil,' we'd pray 'please don't hit us and beat us up and gouge our eyes out and make us bleed! Oooh Phil!' Then one day Phil got struck by lightning and we all said hey, there's something bigger than Phi - il! - Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner.
A Word about 'God'
IN THE LARGELY CHRISTIAN west we have all grown up knowing something about God. We often have vague ideas of Him as a gray haired patriarchal figure wearing white robes who seems to live somewhere in the sky. This actually proves to be a very accurate description.
Our original ideas about God come from the Jewish portion of the Bible, or the Old Testament in Christian terms. These ancient and powerful writings still profoundly affect our spiritual thinking today, whether we are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, atheist, or agnostic. They were composed in the Middle East over a period of about 700 years, during what archaeologists refer to as the Iron Age, roughly 1200 BC to 200 BC. Naturally these writings reflect their own times and circumstances.
Monotheism, or the belief in one god rather than many, was largely the creation of these ancient Middle Eastern Jews. It grew out of their experiences as the nomadic 'Hebrews' who apparently wandered the deserts of the region for centuries before settling down into the lands of Judea and Israel. This Hebrew god had been a sky god like other nomadic peoples of the area worshipped.
Gods and goddesses normally belonged to particular city-states. Marduk was the patron god of Babylon and Inanna, the Sumerian moon goddess, inhabited the city of Ur in southern Mesopotamia for example. Having no particular 'place' to seat their god nomadic peoples had theirs living in the sky, where they were always available to them wherever they went.
Our God of the Old Testament was originally one of these nomadic sky deities. He still is to many. Dress Him up as a medieval artisan's idea of an ancient Jewish elder, add a blue sky and some puffy white clouds and our picture is complete.
This Biblical image and idea of God haunts many of us and sometimes stands in the way of our spiritual development. Finding these old fashioned notions of the Divine unacceptable we may stop searching altogether, not realizing that there are many alternative, and more up to date, beliefs to be explored. The ancient Jews did their best to understand the divine but, like everyone, their ideas could not exceed the limits imposed by their cultural and historical experiences. They used what knowledge and beliefs were available to them in order to create a divinity they could accept and understand, as people do everywhere and in every time. For their time and place it worked just fine.
We live in completely different circumstances and require a very different focal point than the one used in ancient Palestine. But we are all searching for the same mysterious 'thing' that they were. They gave us their concept of it, which works out finally as 'God' in the English language ('God' in Hebrew scripture is referred to both as the deliberately unpronounceable 'JHWH' and 'Elohim' a word that paradoxically means 'gods' not 'God'.). We are free to call 'It' whatever we like and come to understand and accept 'It' in the full light of our own day if we so choose. The Bible is but the first word on the subject of 'God', not the last word by any means.
Historian Robert S. McElvaine writes persuasively also that this Biblical God is strictly a male invention and hence made into a masculine entity. In Eve's Seed: Biology, the Sexes, and the Course of History he presents the case that at the dawn of civilization religion quickly became co-opted by men (from women) in response to their perceived loss of importance as hunters and protectors, brought about by the invention (by women) of agriculture. In his words "Hell hath no fury like a man under-valued." Consequently God, as the ultimate authority figure, is made male and religion becomes, as we now know it, a purely 'man'- made and male administered institution. If we now wish to avoid implying that one sex is 'better' or more powerful than the other he urges we use gender- neutral terms like 'The Creator'.
Mcelvaine's idea too on how men use the negative definition of 'notawoman' to identify themselves and their preferences may also have a bearing on difficulties men sometimes have with spiritual concepts. If we designate character traits like compassion and empathy as 'feminine' then to be a 'real man' one must be pitiless and uncaring. In reality, to possess these qualities of course is not masculinity at all. It is psychopathy.
Some people avidly embrace the God of the Bible and others do not. Both are completely free to do so of course. The idea is to have a belief in something universally divine that transcends our ability to fully comprehend it. What we call it is unimportant and what it actually is probably lies beyond our human ability to fully understand anyway. The important thing for our own spiritual development is simply to acknowledge and respect its existence while striving to understand as much of its nature as we can.
In searching for the sacred and spiritual a belief in 'God' in any traditional sense therefore is completely optional. We cannot let other people's ideas of the divine block us from finding our own. There is indeed something bigger than Phil.
SPIRITUALITY IS CONCERNED WITH the non-material, the things of the spirit, the intangibles and the mysteries of life. It is no less real than the material nor is it something foreign to us. Morals and ethics, emotions, thoughts, personality, and beliefs (among many other things) are all 'spiritual' in nature. Spirituality is essentially simple and not necessarily as complicated as some make it out to be.
Spirituality arises naturally in each of us. It begins when we all start to ask ourselves a few basic questions about ourselves, life and the universe we inhabit. As we go through life we are continually accepting and rejecting answers and formulating new ones. Except when we are young we are often unaware that these questions and our answers to them are in our minds at all.