A Funny Thing Happened On My Way To The Grave
And a sad thing happened this morning. But more on that in a minute. I was going to title this post something like The Composite God, but then the title above came to me, and I hoped it might grab more attention, which is why I spend my days doing this shit.
The sad thing that happened was receiving a call from the wife of an old friend, Glen, with the news that he had died. We both grew up in what is now called The Omaha Home for Boys from 1947 to 1957 in Omaha, NE. We are, or in his case, were both sitting on the bullseye of death's target at almost 80 years old, so while his death was unexpected, it is not all that surprising. He was a good guy and will be missed by many.
And, that event spurred me to get busy with this post of which I had a sticky note to remind me what I wanted to write about; another sign of getting on in years; you start putting notes all over the place, so you don't forget, but if you aren't specific in the note, you're still not sure what the hell you wanted to do.
Any of you that may have read past postings or posts to FB & Twitter already know that I'm an Athiest; that I don't believe a God exists. As I've tried to make clear in the past, I'm not anti-religion. However, I can find great fault with how others have used religion to demean, oppress, and ostracize billions of people over the millennia.
I do understand the appeal of religion to people, perhaps like Glen's family, who may take comfort in believing he's gone on to a better place and that someday they may even join him in heaven, as most Christians believe. The Aztecs called it Mictlan; the Jews, Gan Eden, the Norse, Valhalla; ancient Egypt, Fields of Aaru; Hindus went to Vaikuntha; for the Irish, it was Tir Na Nog; the Celts went to Otherworld; the Greeks trundled off to Elysian, and medieval Europeans landed in Cockaigne.
I understand the desire to believe in mythology, as many folks in that last paragraph did. It would be grand to believe that someday I will see Glen again in an afterlife where we're dancing in a meadow with fairies or some such thing, but I can't quite get there. I'm totally convinced that God or Yahweh, Zeus, Allah, Vishnu, Xavier, or Jah; there are other names, but hopefully, you get my point, are all the figment of human imagination and fear.
In ancient times, people believed in multiple gods. Angry, passionate and vindictive, jealous and insecure, petty and insane: the inhabitants of Mount Olympus represent an attempt by the ancient Greeks to explain the chaos of the universe through human nature. Aphrodite was the goddess of love; Athena, the goddess of the hunt, and Zeus, in addition to controlling the weather, was noted for his chronic infidelity to his sister-wife, Hera.
The Norse had Thor - God of Sky, thunder, and fertility; Loki - The sly, trickster of the Norse gods, and Aegir - Norse God of the sea, to name a few. The Norse had a shitload of gods, at least sixty-four by my count. If I'm wrong, and these fuckers exist, I should include Odin, King of the Norse Gods, God of poetry, battle, and death. Chief god of
the Aesir. Also known as the "all-father," the "terrible one,"
"one-eyed," and "father of battle." Just in case, you know, Odin reads this.😁
Why this boring list of gods? To make a point that the old ones had no science, no education, no books, and no internet to consult when there was something they didn't understand. Live was perilous and unforgiving and they had no way to understand what was happening to them. So, they invented gods. In almost every instance, the gods were depicted as men and women. The ancient ones had limited imaginations for creating other-worldly spirits, so they all looked like us. And, interestingly, they behaved like us. They lied, cheated, got angry, were jealous and vindictive, all human traits.
Over time, as people observed these gods, they questioned why they should show allegiance to such flawed and debased gods. How could these gods claim to be divine if they were as screwed up like we humans? This had to be the beginning of boiling down all this mythology into one god, the God.
The first task was to rid this new God of the disgusting behaviors of humans that had infected so many of the old gods. Things like boinking your sister or marrying your mother. So, out with that kind of nonsense. Our new God was not only divine but had no parents or siblings, hell, you couldn't even see him. Our new God had to be perfect. However, since we understood that most mortals tend to resist being told how to live their lives, this God had to be threatening and angry, and vindictive if you didn't follow his teachings. As the Old Testament tells us, he was an angry God and rained fire and brimstone down on the people who disobeyed him. But, he was also a loving and forgiving God, perhaps a little bipolar?
This new God was working out pretty well until people got fed up with his anger, locusts, demanding sacrifices (that was leftover from the old gods) floods, etc. So, some of the followers of this new God, mostly Jews, in the beginning, decided they would create an offshoot religion that preached a softer version of Judaism.
The Jews had always expected a Messiah. Along came Jesus, who preached peace and love and turning the other cheek; this was perfect. He was declared the Messiah. This worked fine for a minority of his followers but generally pissed off the mainstream Jews and the Romans running the show then and who still believed in their various and nefarious multiple gods. Jesus had to go, and he did, but his followers elevated him in the eyes of the believers and made him perfect. He was born to a virgin (no hanky-panky allowed in his creation). And, then they had him rise from the dead and float up to heaven to be with the God who was also perfect.
Now, I grant you that was a terrific piece of storytelling, as was any of the stories about Zeus, Thor, Apollo, or Brigit. Brigit, you say? Who the hell is Brigit? Brigit is the Celtic goddess of fire, healing, fertility, poetry, cattle, and patroness of smiths. Really? the smiths got their own goddess? (Yes, I know, we're talking smiths as in silversmiths) Brigit is also known as Brighid or Brigantia, and in Christianity, she is known as St. Brigit or Brigid. She was one busy goddess. She is compared with the Roman goddesses Minerva and Vesta.
A funny thing happened on my way to the grave. I was indoctrinated in a Presbyterian Sunday School (the equivalent to a Muslim Madrassa) starting around age five. For the better part of five years, I was buying the stories, but as I heard more and more outlandish tales that rivaled anything that the Grimms had written, I began to ask questions of people in authority, which was frowned upon.
Given the mind I have, thanks I believe to genetics, not only did these stories sound a bit too cartoony, but when the authorities in the churches (I attended several) began to berate me and almost threaten me for having the audacity to question their teachings, I knew something was wrong. Fast forward about ten years until I was around twenty, and I had morphed into an agnostic. I had serious doubts but was still reluctant to draw conclusions.
After another ten years of watching wars in Viet Nam and around the world; people being massacred by other tribes of people, and all the other tragedies that tend to befall humankind, it was pretty clear to me that there was no supreme being somewhere up there pulling strings to make people dance or deciding the earth should open up and swallow people. We live in an amazing but violent and ever-changing universe with forces beyond anything we can imagine affecting not just life on our planet but also stars, galaxies, and other planets. I was now a full-fledged Athiest.
How do I deal with Glen's death? It is a part of life. You cannot have life without birth and death, just as we cannot have the stars without their birth and death. There is something, not somebody, that rules the universe. It is a combination of energy and dynamics that we are still trying to understand. I feel a loss with Glen's death, but I will celebrate that we shared life as children and reunited as adults to reminisce and laugh about life. And, when my time comes, and it will as certainly as our sun will die someday, I hope others will think of me as a friend and someone who loved to laugh and celebrate life.