Middle Eastern Religion

July 9, 2011

Once, when I heard someone contrasting  “Western religion” with some other kind, I suddenly felt moved to interject that there is no truly “Western religion.” All world religions are Middle Eastern or Indian in origin. Back when Greco-Roman civilization had begun to outgrow its own earlier mythologies (remember Zeus?), but still lacked the cultural infrastructure to make higher learning and intellectual discipline available to the masses, our ancestors (I speak as a Greek here) stumbled upon Yahwism among their colonised populations, adapted it, converted it to their own use, and only now do we seem to be ready to leave it behind. The peoples of East and Southeast Asia did much the same with Buddhism.

Anyway, of the Abrahamic faiths I have always found Judaism the least absurd by far. How so? Well, it does share with the others the rather implausible notion of the Omnipotent Lord and Creator of the Universe choosing to reveal Himself fully and exclusively to a handful of people in the Eastern Mediterranean a long time ago; but given that premise, the Jews draw the reasonable conclusion that said Lord and Creator must have intended his message primarily for just those people (and of course their descendants in perpetuity), without any notion of the whole rest of humankind being obliged to take their word for it.

The very idea of an Omnipotent God, who could if He chose reveal Himself to anyone and everyone, whether through whirlwinds or lightnings or still small voices, choosing to speak to all of us authoritatively through a handful of people (any handful) – and having them get the word out by writing a book, – seems to me a throwback to that early stage of civilization when books were rare and precious, and those who could write and read them just as much so.  I don’t think of “religion,” as many non-believers do, as a deliberate lie, a conscious conspiracy to keep people docile and obedient, though that has certainly been one of its uses. It think it came about – I mean here not the earliest tribal tales and practices but the things we think of as “religions” in the countable sense of the word, these big integrated marketable systems, with names and boundaries, canons and hierarchies, which you can in principle convert to or from wherever in the world you are – as a result of the early scribal elite, the IT people of their day – who earned a prosperous and respected place in society mainly by doing really useful things, by keeping the records necessary to an early agricultural society, by collating and passing on what little scientific knowledge was available – naturally applying those same skills to mythology and ritual, and coming to be regarded as having the same authority in these matters as in those where it was earned…


2 Responses to “Middle Eastern Religion”

  1. Claude Tusk Says:

    You do realize that it is part of the “message” of Judaism that the day will come when all the world will recognize the God of the Jews as the true God, and “the islands laugh exulting that they to God belong”? If there is a mode in which Judaism is somewhat less absurd than the other Abrahamic religions–and I think there is–it is not, I think, in the modesty of its assertion as to who is to fall within the jurisdiction of its God.

    • allogenes Says:

      If you posit an Omnipotent God in the first place, it surely follows that He can, if He wishes, reveal Himself unmistakably to all Humankind (and other life-forms as well). If you are confident that you’ve got the correct God, it is natural to hope and trust that He will in the end choose to do so. This is not the absurdity I was referring to, which is to think that the methods He has apparently chosen so far constitute a sufficient revelation to make the purported truth already self-evident to all. If that were His purpose He could surely have chosen more adequate means.

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