Intersection of Philosophy, Psychology, and Religion
What it means to be human
What it means to be human
Cosmology: On Earth as it is in Heaven
In this, my first post, I want to begin with a broad stroke in painting a picture of the self. As this blog grows, we will explore a number of avenues in understanding who we are as a human family, as well as taking a journey into the self. Included in the mix of blogs will be topics such as consciousness, the inner journey as portrayed in literature, personality styles, happiness, morality, and so on. One of the areas I enjoy exploring is fairy tales, science fiction/fantasy, and popular music, so we can explore those as well. I will begin by posting once a week and then see where this journey takes us. The broad stroke that I want to begin with is cosmology. This will help us see how we view ourselves in the universe. A few questions to consider include: We were created by some divine entity, or are we simply here as a product of our parent’s encounter with one another? Does the universe provide us with meaning, or do we give ourselves meaning? Are we created in the image of God, or are we savages? My take is from a Christian point of view, steeped in the Catholic tradition. I welcome polite and engaging comments and questions.
When I teach a religion course or philosophy of human nature, we begin by discussing cosmology. I define cosmology as the order of the universe and the roles and attributes of the supernatural and humanity. The first part of that definition is simply the fact that the universe is ordered, i.e., it follows the laws of physics. We spend a little time looking at some models of the universe and revisit these, especially in a world religions course where, for example, we compare and contrast the Hindu model of the universe with the Jewish model. The next part of my definition includes the roles and attributes of the supernatural. Supernatural beings would include god, gods, angels, devils, jinn, ascended masters, etc. Most religions began as oral traditions, where the culture developed and passed down myths about creation, celebrated rituals honoring the divine, and taught the next generation rules of behavior (ethics) and the principles behind doing good (morals), often doing one’s duty in community (societal norms). Eventually, these would be written down by priests or scribes or individuals with similar religious roles in the community. Together we would read translated excerpts from the text and highlight the roles (verbs) and attributes (qualities of being) for each of the spiritual beings described. I describe the qualities of being as how one might describe someone’s personality, traits, quirks, and so on to a friend. By doing so we eventually discover the cultural beliefs about the spirit world and by extension the expectations of humanity. How one perceives the order of the universe parallels how one perceives life on earth, as echoed in the Our Father prayer, ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ in Matthew 6:9-13. Dr. Melissa Cain Travis has an excellent text about the role of God in the cosmos, entitled Science and the Mind of the Maker.
Next, we review the text in order to identify the roles and attributes of humanity. Here we discover what people are doing that are aligned with the divine law (ordered) or not aligned (disordered). We may also discover what the culture valued at that time, including duty, producing offspring, gaining prosperity or land, as well as virtues such as beauty, goodness, hospitality, etc. Then we can compare the roles and attributes of the divine with humanity, including what is unique to each and what they have in common or what humans ought to strive for—a moral imperative. It is important to understand that we are reading a translated text millennia removed from our human experience and describes a culture different from our own.
In the western tradition, we begin with reading Enūma Eliš, the Babylonian creation myth which borrowed from an older Sumerian text. The Babylonian version was written on seven clay tablets with some missing text. This tale was widely popular in the 18th century B.C. and the names of Sumerian gods were replaced with Babylonian gods. There are some similarities between the Jewish creation myths found in Genesis 1 and 2, to be sure; however, the differences between the two are astounding, as they relay how the Babylonians and Jewish understanding of the nature of the divine and the nature of humanity are different. Every culture has creation stories and they typically begin with the understanding that the universe was in chaos and needed a divine entity to create order. Most creation myths begin with some type of battle between good gods and evil gods, and often the creation of humanity is an afterthought. Usually created things have less value than the gods themselves. The material world was often considered evil and the spirit world good, even though some of the gods were evil. Let us take a look at an excerpt of Enūma Eliš.
From Tablet I we read,
1 When the heavens above did not exist,
2 And earth beneath had not come into being --
3 There was Apsû, the first in order, their begetter,
4 And demiurge Tia-mat, who gave birth to them all;
5 They had mingled their waters together
6 Before meadow-land had coalesced and reed-bed was to he (sic) found --
7 When not one of the gods had been formed
8 Or had come into being, when no destinies had been decreed,
9 The gods were created within them
Here we see that there once was a time when there was only undifferentiated water, divided into salty water and fresh water. Out of the fresh water came the god, Apsû and out of the salty water came the goddess, Tia-mat, the former being a god of fresh water and the latter a goddess of salt-water. Their union created the other gods. Gods created other gods and ‘no destinies had been decreed.’ Apsu, tired of hearing the younger gods’ noise, killed many of them. Their son Enki, killed Apsu in his sleep. Tia-mat is angry that Apsu was killed and partnered with Qingu to go to battle for the heavens. She gives to him the Tablets of Destiny. These destinies influenced the fates of the gods and all of creation, as scholar Yehezkel Kaufmann argues. He calls this fate or destiny force of the universe, the metadivine realm which continues to capture the imagination of students of the Bible. This idea is similar to many ancient myths, that is the fates control the destinies of gods and humans. In my courses I compare the metadivine realm to the force in Star Wars. The god Marduk defeated Qinqu and Tia-mat. Her tears created the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Finally, the idea of creating earth and humanity emerges in Tablet VI. Marduk had Ea create the first man, Lullû out of the blood of the evil god Qinqu, who instigated warfare.
From Tablet VI, after Marduk asked the council of the gods about who started the conflict, the counsellor of the gods answered and acted. We read,
29 "Qingu is the one who instigated warfare,
30 Who made Tia-mat rebel and set battle in motion."
31 They bound him, holding him before Ea,
32 They inflicted the penalty on him and severed his blood-vessels.
33 From his blood he (Ea) created mankind,
34 On whom he imposed the service of the gods, and set the gods free.
35 After the wise Ea had created mankind
36 And had imposed the service of the gods upon them--
37 That task is beyond comprehension
Note the roles of the gods, look for the verbs. The gods instigate, rebel, battle, bound, hold, inflict, sever, create, impose, and set free. These events are what people in that society would reenact and celebrate. The power structure, king and his council, would adopt the role of binding, holding, imposing, and setting free. Also, they would inflict penalties, sever the rebellious (execution), and create the temples, walls, and other structures in society. The people would not want to rebel or conspire, but serve the gods by serving their king, building the temple, reenacting the tales of the gods, and completing the tasks assigned to them.
Genesis 1 and Enuma Elish
Compare Enuma Elish to Genesis 1:1-2:4a, considered by many scholars to be a separate creation story than Genesis 2:4b-3. Here there is one God who brought order out of chaos and whose primary purpose was to create. There is no heavenly war between factions of divinities and the creation of humanity was not an afterthought of that conflict, but human creation was the climax of the story. Creation is called good seven times. Humanity is created in the image and likeness of God and the unnamed first people are given dominion over creation and given the command to reproduce. Male and female were created together and each were created in God’s image. God’s roles is to create, bless, and give over authority to people. Let’s take a look at a portion of scripture, Genesis 1:26-28.
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
In both the Enuma Elish and Genesis account, people are given a purpose, a telos. The fact that there is a “plan, purpose, intention, and design” is indicative of a creator. There are significant differences between the two however. In the Babylonian Myth, Marduk and Ea design Lullu and all of humanity to serve them while in the Genesis account the purpose of humanity to care for the planet. The distinction between the savage man can be seen in Hobbes’s Leviathan and Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species, while the idea of the image of God persists in Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man and relating this concept to practical theology. Later blog posts will develop these ideas in more detail.
Suffice it to say that how we view the self influences how we view relationships with others, politics, culture, religion, philosophy, and psychology. Am I a savage with good and evil forces inside and outside me? Or am I created in the image of God, a good where evil is not a natural part of me? How would a Babylonian and Jew view themselves in 7th century Babylon, during the Babylonian exile? Many scholars argue that although Genesis 1 was passed down orally, scribes wrote it during this exile, perhaps as a response to Enuma Elish. Jewish rabbis decided that Genesis 1 ought to go first in the Torah. Social groups, with various worldviews, are in conversation with each other. Religous groups are social groups with different cosmologies, teleologies, and understandings of the self.
On Earth as it is in Heaven
An important thought to keep in mind is that how we view the universe or heaven aligns with how we view society, and the self. The origin of the universe is a complex thing to study, as physicist Marcelo Gleiser attests in his NPR post. If we are here because of some random energy burst some 13.8 billion years ago which eventually led to the universe we know today and the emergence of intelligent life on Earth, then society and personhood are also random events. Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx, whom Michel Foucault and Paul Ricouer would call masters of suspicion or inventors of the hermeneutics of suspicion, viewed humans as organisms (savages) who willed to power, desired sexual satisfaction, and wanted to dominate by class, respectively. For those that adhere to this understanding of human nature, one would have to devise meaning on one’s own, as there is no innate sense of meaning in the universe. Society is derived out of a basic skepticism or nihilism of the other and begins to deconstruct traditional beliefs and institutions. For those who are born with an innate skepticism and self-determination, this social construct may not look so bad. Many who follow this way of living may be considered modern Epicureans, who live by the creed, “Eat, Drink, and be Merry, for tomorrow we may die.” Some of the outcomes of such a society may include attitudes survival of the fittest, corporate capitalism where the bottom line is more important than the needs of the average citizen, and a rise in euthanasia—since some people no longer serve a utilitarian purpose in society. Certainly, there are those who follow this way of thinking who want to shape a society for all, in a Humanist way. Philosopher, David Rutledge has a podcast that explores a way to deal with these kinds of issues. His Nihilism and Utopia is a 28 minute discussion on Philosopher’s Zone with Omedi Ochieng, author of Groundwork for the Practice of the Good Life.
Alternatively, there is the biblical concept of being created in the image of God. As such, all people have a certain dignity of being, covered by a cadre of scholars. One of the hallmarks of Jewish thought is that there is one human family, as all are descendants of Adam/Eve and Noah and his wife. We all share dignity, as we are all created in God’s image. St. Paul admits that we are created in God’s image, see 1 Corinthians 11:7. In Romans 2:15, he teaches that all have the law of God written on our hearts. Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment. His answer from Matthew 22 is,
37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
We are not called to love the self in isolation from our neighbor. We are not called to love our neighbor without loving God. Love of self, neighbor, and God is a unitary act of consciousness. When we recognize that our enemy (as in Matthew 5:43-48), our neighbor, that supporter of the opposition party, etc. are created in the image of God then we can have a more compassionate attitude toward each other. In Matthew 25, Jesus teaches about the sheep and the goats at the final judgement. He says,
35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
Living the image of God means seeing the other as a brother or sister. We are called to do much for the least amongst us. This is a good place to start our exploration of the self. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you. Feel free to leave respectable comments or questions.