We are still listening to medieval voices
Modern science has existed for nearly 700 years and has guided us out of the dark ages into the most enlightened time in the history of our species. Yet, we cling to fantasies, fallacies, and folklore older than recorded history, with most of it rooted in religion.
Five major world religions claim the majority of religious adherents. Just two, Christianity and Islam, account for over 4 billion people, more than half the total population on Earth. Each of the religions has shaped our culture for generations. The world religions have influenced art, architecture, philosophy, ethics, politics, and even language. Each has its unique attributes, traditions, and peculiarities.
Thou shalt not kill - that is pretty basic to all the religions, and I suspect that tenet existed long before organized religion. Common sense told our ancient ancestors that they had to (a) survive as a group and (b) stop killing each other. Other rules for societal behavior almost certainly preceded organized religion. Like our primate cousins in the ape family, we instinctively understood the need for societal norms.
As we procreated in ancient times, probably more like wild dogs, and most likely producing some offspring that were not likely to contribute to the advancement of our species, it must have become evident that we needed rules about sexual permissiveness. Again, this was happening long before organized religion became the guardian of human behavior.
As religion evolved from…no one is quite sure what was in its place before recorded history to the advent of various beliefs in multiple gods, we then codified much of what we had learned about governing human behavior into the rules of multiple belief systems. Those ancient ancestors wanted to believe in something. We have found graves of people buried with cherished objects - sometimes other people and animals - suggesting that we had or wanted to believe in an afterlife. We concluded that some higher powers controlled the weather and lightning, floods, etc., and we experimented with multiple gods, often thought to be related to divine rulers, an idea almost certainly promulgated by the rulers.
Having witnessed over the centuries, these divine rulers behaving like low-lifes, incestuous whoremasters, and bloodthirsty butchers, we realized their behavior was tarnishing the image of our gods by association. We quickly disabused ourselves of that notion that any humans were gods. We eventually winnowed the whole theory down to a single God.
Life for humans, going back as far as recorded history permits and even before that, was, in a word, a bitch. Finding food, shelter, dying from a disease, and avoiding every other danger imaginable, human life was a considerable trial without a lot of happy endings.
As we began to believe in gods, and eventually a single God, it was counter-intuitive to believe in a God who made us suffer so. Why would he put all this pain and suffering on us, if as we were taught, he loved us? If we were to believe in God, we needed to explain why this God, who supposedly created us, would shit on us daily, as seemed to be the case.
Life and death were also great mysteries. We understood that the act of procreating brought about babies, just as every animal on the planet follows the instinct to breed. We had no clue how any of that came about, so God became a convenient explanation for how a child came to be, and with religion serving a dual purpose as keepers of science, the idea was accepted that it was divine intervention.
Death. Whoa! Death! An unsolvable mystery as it is today. We knew it happened to all living things, but it scared the bejesus out of us. Despite the miserable shit-storm, most of us called our lives, we held on to religious teachings with a passion, not wanting to die. But, with religion, came the knowledge, promulgated by our religious leaders, that we didn't die as long as we were true to our faith; we passed on to a new forever life that not only ensured we would be around forever, but we were assured that we would be free of our suffering and pain, and we would be reunited with all the family and friends who had died before us. That's a late-night ad that's hard to ignore.
Another problem presented by a "god" orchestrating all these events on Earth was the notion of evil and sin. A certain percentage of people, no matter how many times they were told the rules of civilization, refused to sign up to and adhere to the rules of life set down, rules that they didn't have a vote in. To put this aberrant behavior in context, we concluded some evil people sinned. Since we had a God to guide us down the rosy path of life, we needed a villain to explain why some of our fellow humans behaved so badly; enter Satan and the notion of evil influences.
All of this evolution of human thought happened over tens or even hundreds of thousands of years. The rules and standards were passed from one generation to the other verbally before the advent of writing. And, those social norms varied greatly from one society to another. With the arrival of writing, people all over the Earth began to record all the myths and stories, many baseless, containing all the fears and presumed answers developed over the millennia to govern human behavior.
Viola'! We had religious texts that could be passed from one generation to another, providing continuity of thought as well as enshrining those who wrote the words. Often claiming input from the divine, the authors ensured their place in history as well as some power in their current life.
All of this was working reasonably well for the better part of 2,800 years. From what some think of as the beginnings of monotheism (one God) in 1300 BCE until around the 14th century CE when some feel modern science began to unravel many of life's mysteries using observations and logic rather than folklore. Before this time, we relied on medieval science, which hailed theology and metaphysics as the pinnacle of scientific knowledge.
For an interesting take on the evolution of religion, you might want to look at this: or, better yet, buy my book.
Much of modern-day religion still holds on to the very same concepts developed during the period of medieval science. When we look at some of the rituals of the major religions, we see this in action.
The taking of communion in most Christian churches with a nibble of bread and perhaps a sip of wine in the belief that you are taking in the blood and body of Christ is a prime example.
Upon the death of a Jew, the eyes are closed, the body is covered and laid on the floor, and candles are lit next to it. The body is never left alone as a sign of respect. Those who stay with the body are called shomerim (guards). Eating, drinking, or performing mitzvot are prohibited near the body, as such actions would mock the person who is no longer able to do such things.
Flowers are not appropriate at a Muslim funeral or as gifts to the mourning family. Men and women sit separately at the Muslim funeral service, and women should cover their heads and arms. No recording devices of any kind — audio, video or photo — are permitted. Some sects mourn officially for 40 days; during that time, the family wears only black. The widow wears black for a year, although the anniversary of the death is not otherwise observed
The Christian ecclesiastical garb first became peculiar in a strict sense when, under the influence of the migration of the Germanic tribes, the costumes, as well as the forms of the ancient world, passed away. The more convenient medieval dress was substituted, while the Church (and for a longer or shorter period, the upper classes and the higher officials also) clung to Roman or Greek fashions.
Dietary laws and customs are based on the prior assumption of social stratification or, at least, of a sense of separateness is provided by Judaism as spelled out in the books of in the Torah. Prohibited foods include all animals—and the products of animals—that do not chew the cud and do not have cloven hoofs (e.g., pigs and horses); fish without fins and scales; the blood of any animal; shellfish (e.g., clams, oysters, shrimp, crabs) and all other living creatures that creep; and those fowl enumerated in the Bible (e.g., vultures, hawks, owls, herons). All foods outside these categories may be eaten.
Many Qurʾānic strictures were explicit in establishing distinctions between Arabs and Jews. Many dietary regulations borrow heavily from Mosaic Law in forbidding the consumption of the blood of any animal, the flesh of swine or of animals that are found dead, and food that has been offered or sacrificed to idols. The most radical departure of Islamic dietary laws from those found in the Torah concerns the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Jews may consume alcohol and wine in many rituals and feasts. The Qurʾān, however, absolutely forbids any such beverages.
There may have been some good reasons for some of these rules. We now know, thanks to modern science, that certain parasites can be ingested from eating both pork and some fish that can invade the body and make us sick. Without the benefit of science, ancient humans may have been able to make a connection between certain foods and humans becoming ill, and these rules were established to protect human health.
Christianity did not develop elaborate dietary rules and customs. This probably grew out of the controversy over whether or not to observe Mosaic food laws. Jesus is said to have declared that any external agent could not cause contamination.
Hindu food observances help to define a social position. While uncooked food may be received from or handled by members of any caste, Brahmans, members of the highest caste, eat only those foods prepared in the finest manner (pakka). Everyone else takes inferior (kacca) food. Food left on plates after eating is defined as garbage (jutha) because the eater’s saliva has polluted it. Meats are graded according to their relative amount of pollution. Eggs are the least and beef the most defiling; the highest-caste Brahmans avoid all meat products.
Again, much if not most of this knowledge must have come to us before organized religion. We observed what was happening and connecting the dots. So and so ate this mushroom and died. After several such occurrences, we learned not to eat that particular mushroom. That is the definition of evolution; learning by observing and making connections.
While we cling to many of these ancient notions, we all know now how to ensure we don't get sick from infected pork; it has nothing to do with what kind of hooves an animal has. Shellfish and fish without fins are not only harmless, but many of them are essential to a healthy diet.
We know how our bodies and those of the rest of the animal kingdom work to produce offspring; we know what thunder and lightning are and how it is produced; we understand the tides, eclipses, and the expansiveness of our universe. All this knowledge and more have come to us over the last 700 years, and our knowledge base continues to grow exponentially with each advance in science and technology.
So, why do we continue to listen to the voices of the past, people who, two thousand years ago, thought the world was flat? Five hundred or a thousand years from now, will the world of the future look back on us as we look back on the ancient Greeks and Egyptians and wonder how we could have clung to the old ways?
Certainly, the focus at the moment in the US and around the world, is with the various agencies involved in the enforcement of laws and their abuse of their authority, and in particular how they interact with people of color.
The "white man" has ruled over this world for a very long time in most cases. Without turning this into a history class, and I shouldn't have to if we've been paying attention, we white people have ruled most of this planet for centuries. Naturally, in China, Japan, the Koreas, and all of Asia, after the Europeans tried mightily to rule that part of the world, and succeeded for a number of centuries, most of Asia wrested back their autonomy from the Europeans.
Until quite recently, the power and the leadership in most western countries was dominated by white males. That would include most of Western Europe, the United States and Canada as well as some parts of South America. To some extent, this is true in Russia, although Russia is almost a study by itself.
In the US, and I suspect around the world, those in power also wrote controlling documents like their constitutions and enacted laws to rule their world. They formed various government agencies to operate their society. Whether it was always a conscious intent or more subconscious, those controlling documents were designed to ensure that those in power, stayed in power. They became manifestos to white male supremacy.
That term, mind control brings to mind about as many images as there are people on the planet; it means different things to different people, but it is, I believe, the ultimate struggle that each of us wrestle with our entire lives.
Our mind, our intellect, and yes, our egos are the result of an evolutionary process that seems to be unique to our branch of the primate tree and to all life as we know it on this earth. For whatever reason, our brain evolved a multitude of functions and capabilities unlike any other animal that we are aware of. And, along with that, we seem to have lost other abilities that many of our animal cousins still possess. Did we lose them, or was it simply that with the growth and complexity of our new brains that we no longer needed those older elements and instincts?
I'll leave the pursuit of knowledge about our evolution in terms of our brain to the researchers and scientists who have both the education and the time to delve into the topic. What I want to discuss is the programming of our brains as we travel the road of life.
Yes, programming; we are programmed beginning at a very early age and we continue to be programmed and attempt at reprogramming us are not stop through most of our lives. Some of the programs come from outside our minds and some of it is self-imposed.
There are studies that indicate we begin hearing and sensing things while we're still in the womb. I suspect that degree of learning is somewhat limited. First of all, in the womb, you are pretty much consumed with the process of development from a mass of cells to a fully formed little critter with a functioning brain. There's a reason why this all takes place in the womb and not on the kitchen table; we need some privacy and certainly protection during this growth period.
So that my words are not abused or misused, let me hasten to add that this has nothing to do with a woman's right to choose whether or not to be an incubator for what will eventually become a viable being. I am pro-choice and nothing I am saying here is to be misconstrued to argue against that position. Someday, as will undoubtedly happen, we will be able to create a human outside a woman's womb.
That process, just as it happens in a womb today, will initially be a collection of cells with the potential of becoming a viable being, but for a considerable period of time as it lies in a Petri dish, or glass bubble, or whatever medium is used to allow those cells to divide and grow, it is not a vialble lifeform. Early in that process, as things may go wrong, and they will just as they do in a womb, a decision will have to be made whether or not to allow those cells to evolve into a partially functioning human or not.
Enough of that. Back to our collection of cells that now has a brain capable of hearing and sensing at least some information. As the article above indicates, our little brain has the ability to hear words outside the womb and remember those words. Since we can't see yet, we can't associate those words with images, but the words are stored in our brains along with other sounds we may have heard, a barking dog, the doorbell, a sneeze or a cough.
You may have heard or read that playing classical music to an infant in the womb can increase their intelligence. This article suggest there is no scientific foundation for this claim. That doesn't mean the music isn't heard, and that it may well affect the devlopment of the infants brain, but such proof would require a significan number of babies in the womb, preferrably all identical to avoid other mitigating factors, and then a controlled study of playing Mozart for some and not others. Until we have those babies lined up in the labratory, all created equal throght DNA engineering, we're unlikely to know the answer to this question.
This preamble, while a bit long, is meant to get us thinking about mind control. As I stated at the beginning, this is a lifelong struggle for all of us, starting from the time we pop out of the womb until we are popped into a casket, oven, or whatever our end process of choice might be.
We begin in a somewhat controlled environment, at home with our parents and perhaps siblings. This is where we start learning most of what will define us as adults. We eat the family food, laugh at the family's humor, listen to the family's favorite music, smell the family smells, and begin to adopt the family beliefs and prejudices. We are somewhat insulated from the ideas and culture of outsiders. Unless, our parent(s) work and we end up in daycare. Now we are also being programmed by the daycare worker(s) with their particular beliefs, likes, and dislikes. That adds a layer of complexity to our personalities and beliefs.
Near the end of this first phase, we are off to kindergarten or to pre-school. Suddenly, we are surrounded by other little wobblers and babblers, all of whom are walking around in a very different cloud of "norms"; what they like, don't like, etc. resulting from the family they came from. That can quickly bring about conflicts of interests as well as learning about how other people think, eat, and feel about the world as a whole. This is our first real challenge of mind control. We were perfectly happy with what we were taught in that first five years, but now some of that is being challenged by new ideas.
We may go home after school and tell mommy or daddy about something another child said, did, or ate. Chances are, mommy or daddy will blow that off with an explanation we don't understand. Or, they may, depending on the topic, get quite aggitated and explain that we don't behave, think, or eat like that in our family. In that case, they have just introduced the concept of discrimination to our little minds. We have just labeled another persons likes or dislikes and even their family as good or bad.
For many of us, at some point in our early development, religion enters the scene. This is yet another effort at controlling our minds and how we think. Each religion has its own values, traditions, and culture and they work hard to indoctrinate their followers in that direction. This can cause a lot of conflict. Let's say your best friend in school is from a Jewish family and you are from a Catholic family. While it's not certain, there is a good chance you will begin to hear how different the Christians and the Jews are and all that that implies.
This process continues as we move through life and it becomes exponentially more complex and intense. Moving through grade school and on to high school and college, we are exposed to hundreds or thousands of new ideas, beliefs, and cultures, all of which we feel a need to classify based on our own values.
Once out of school and into the workplace, we are confronted by more efforts to control how we think. Company rules and norms are presented and we are expected to conform under the threat of losing our jobs. Our ego is challenged. We may be highly motivated to succeed, one of the values taught by our family, and even though we don't agree with the company values completely, we conform in order to satisfy our need to succeed, thereby satisfying our ego.
This is not to say that all or any company cultures are wrong. On the contrary, I think many of them are a good thing and provide us with tools that will benefit us through our lives. Ideas like embracing quality, working as a team, and working toward a consensus are all valuable social tools that apply outside of work as well.
At some point, and this starts with your family's values, you begin to adopt a political point of view. There is no shortage of politicians, friends, and family willing to guide you in your thinking. They will use emotional arguments, economic arguments, and social and tribal arguments to entice you to their point of view. Again, this is a battle for your mind, how you think and how your perceive others.
Marriage is yet another mine field full of potential problems for our way of thinking. Two people from two very different families come together. They have a diverse set of values based to a large extent on their family values; they like different foods, music, color of clothes, styles, etc. These two people are now challenged to blend these two cultures into one homogenous new family culture that will be passed on to their children should the choose to have children. This is often a lifelong process of give and take, compromise, and no small amount of frustration. Each person in the relationship is literally battling for control of the other's mind in terms of values.
If we chose to have children, now these children will go out into the world and bring home the ideas of other families and their likes and dislikes and we have to deal with that. We are now in a battle for control of our children's minds.
We often ask the question, "What is life all about?" The answer to that lies in part to what animal group you were born into.
For the lion and lioness and their cubs, it is learning to be the top predator on the Savannah. For the gazelle, it's understanding that the lion is the top predator and learning the techniques for avoiding the lion and continuing on with life. For a bird, it's how to fly, find food, and avoid predators. The fish, how to swim, find food, and avoid predators. Most of the animal kingdom follows a pattern like that; you're either a predator or the prey, and each of those requires skills that will help you survive.
We humans, having evolved as the top predator and for the most part without having to worry about being the prey, our battle has become one of controlling our minds versus letting others control our thoughts and minds. Early in life, what your parents and the adults helping you develop are trying to do is give you what they see as the skills of survival, much as the lioness does with her cubs. They are trying, not always successfully since they may have not had the right influences in their young lives, to give you the tools to not only survive, but to thrive.
Some final thoughts. Along this path of life, some people will want the best for us in their attempts to shape our minds and others will do so in a selfish and self-serving way. Those operating on a self-serving level are generally promoting themselves, not you. They are trying to improve their personal lot in life and sometimes at your expense or at least using you and after your usefulness is over, they will disappear from your life.
We have to look beyond what sounds good, or promises us something that is probably not deliverable. We have to use our minds and our intellect to sort the good advice from the bad advice and in the process, remain in control of our minds and the values that we know are positive and that produce good, not harm. The meaning of life for humans seems to me to be the challenge of maintaining control of our minds and not giving that over to an outside party, no matter how good they make it sound.
I think and write and talk and then do it all over again.