Friday, August 8, 2008

Cosmos ex Natura 2: God acting in History

Memling: The Judgment

The Judeo-Christian cosmology, and with it the Muslim view, is an account of a God acting in history. One of the strongest acclamations of the monotheistic deity is that it is abstract and transcendental, neither represented by icon, nor idol, and that, rather than following the seasonal cycles of agriculture, or the indulgences of civic pride, represents a living covenental relationship with a true God of reality, who lies beyond mere images of stone.

The monotheistic cosmological narrative is strongly influenced by Genesis, which begins with two conflicting accounts, an Elhoistic sabbatical creation and the Yahwistic allegory of Eden and the Fall.

The sabbatical creation is both charming and contradictory to the natural order. The plural Elohim create heaven and earth, but the earth is primal chaos without form or void - tohu vohu. Their spirit then moves on the waters and there is light and they divide the light and darkness into day and night. Next day they devise a firmament, dividing the waters, and call it heaven. The third day they divide the waters under heaven into land and sea and install the plants. The fourth day the Elohim make the sun, moon and stars, somewhat innocently after the plants, although they did have light coming from somewhere. The fifth day they bring forth fishes and whales and on the sixth day the land animals, and woman and man 'in their likeness' – i.e. the likeness of the plural Elohim - and give them dominion over nature. So on the seventh day the Elohim took Shabbat and rested.

The Eden account is wildly contradictory to the sabbatical creation and sets up a very different sturm and drang. Yahweh having created the earth and heavens and the garden ostensibly in 'the' (one) day, is alone and lonely and generates first Adam from dust breathing life into him and later Eve out of Adam’s rib, telling them all the trees in the garden are for their use, except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The serpent then persuades Eve that the forbidden fruit is to make one wise and she persuades Adam and they eat, only to find they have become accursed by Yahweh and driven from paradise by a flaming sword to sweat by their brow under pain of childbirth. God sets man to rule over woman and curses the ground, turning it to thorns and thistles which man must conquer to survive. From this falling out, all the Pandora’s box of disease and misfortune and alienation between God and humanity ensue. The Shekhinah, or feminine face of divinity, retreats until returning as fractured shards, in the end of days.

These complementary Elhoistic and Yahwistic accounts are also faithfully copied into the Quran, despite Muhammad's claim that they were narrated directly by the angel Gabriel, and moreover recited in the Elhoistic plural:

"O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female" (49:13)

"And We said: O Adam! Dwell you and your wife in the garden and eat from it a plenteous (food) wherever you wish and do not approach this tree, for then you will be of the unjust.
" (2.35)

The Fall (Brothers Limbourg)

As we move through the Pentateuch, and pass from the mythical age, of Sarah, Hagar and Abraham and the founding of the tribes under the older fertility deity El, to the trials of the outsider hapiru - Miriam, Aaron, and Moses and their followers, the personality of Jehovah Adonai, or the Lord God, becomes increasingly that of a jealous patron guardian of the Hebrew faith, acting in history alongside the history of the Hebrew Israelites, locked in a dysfunctional marriage with the bride Israel, punctuated by cursing her enemies, and in turn, the bride herself, for her infidelity, in hankering towards the 'false' deities of the nations. Nevertheless Jeremiah acknowledges the people of Jerusalem said they had peace and prosperity only when they baked cakes for the Queen of Heaven, and the Asherah remained in the temple until the time of Josiah shortly before the Exile into Babylon.

The first mention of hell comes in the Christian version of Deuteronomy. Moved to jealousy, God declares "For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell". However in the Jewish Masoretic text "lowest hell" simply reads as "nethermost parts of the earth" following the older idea of sheol - the underworld to which all living beings return. The differences are likely to be a reflection of the translation of Hebrew 'sheol' to Greek 'hades', which was a gloomy twilight afterlife, rather than the Zoroastrian fires of purification.

Later the Zoroastrian idea of the cosmic renovation of Ahura Mazda - the divinity of placing one's mind - i.e. wisdom - over Angra Mainyu, or 'destructive mentality', and with it its torments of purification of those who had succumbed to the ignorance of the 'lie', became the seed of the apocalyptic movements of the time of Jesus. The God acting in history now no longer simply hearkens from the creation to the ongoing life of the bride Israel, but this destiny now converges on the Day of Judgment, or Requital, in which there is an ultimate division between heaven and hell as the two afterlives of paradisiacal atonement with the divine, and eternal torment and damnation in the fires.

By the time of Jesus, apocalyptic thinking had entered into the end of days scenario, well-described in Revelation, marked by tumult and triage, in which heaven and hell as well as God and Satan are diametrically, and diabolically, opposed, also exemplified by passages from Daniel, Zechariah, Enoch, and Essene documents from the Dead Sea Scrolls.

While God is then described afresh by Jesus and some apocalyptic contemporaries, as a loving and forgiving Father - Abba, his one act of redemption is to sacrifice his only begotten 'son' to achieve this forgiveness, in the crucifixion, as a Paschal lamb exploded to apocalyptic proportions, giving rise to an ongoing blood rite of soma and sangre, which endlessly repeats this bloody murder throughout history, in a manner not unreminiscent of the Aztecs.

Yeshua's entire mission is cast in the shadow of Satan and his overwhelming in the confrontation that eventually became his violent death. In John the battle between light and darkness is the central theme being unraveled. In Luke and Matthew, Jesus is said to be tempted by Satan to cast himself from the pinnacle of the temple to show that the son of God will be saved. The whole idea of Christ and the Second Coming pivotal to the ongoing credibility of Christianity is founded on the idea of the cosmic hero returning on the right hand of Power, in an unveiling, in which a third of all living things will perish and the Lord will return to judge the quick and the dead. The New Testament is thus littered with unfulfilled expectations that Christ would return in the same generation, and increasingly born-again Hellenistic ideas of a rapture in the Day of Judgment when the faithful will levitate into heaven, leaving the natural realm of the 'late planet Earth' behind.

Signorelli Resurrection

The stark eternal division of heaven and hell is blurred by several notions. Jewish thinking refers to gehenna, or hell, as a place of purification, lasting from a year to eternity in a worst case scenario. Catholic thinking interposes purgatory as a place for the souls in grace to be prepared for heaven. Greek Orthodox thinking also opens up the possibility of apocatastasis - restoration to the primordial condition, in which good and evil are reintegrated into paradise. Muslim ideas are derived from the Jewish folklore and scripture of Muhammad's time and so the Quranic word for hell is jahannam i.e. gei hinnom or gehenna.

The Quran, as an offshoot of Jewish cosmology and eschatology, likewise traverses a scheme of God acting in history from Eden through the Fall into an apocalyptic historical unveiling in a day of judgment, accompanied by astronomical eclipses. Muhammad likewise is cast as the final of a succession of prophets from Moses through Jesus.

However the Christian and Muslim ideas of heaven are very different. The Christian heaven is apparently populated only by sexless angels, not having the need for biological reproduction in eternity, after Jesus' somewhat casual rejoinder on divorce, that those in the resurrection would neither marry, nor be given in marriage. By contrast, the Muslim paradise - jannah or garden - is bursting with seductive black-eyed houris, females whose virginity is renewed every day for the endless sexual pleasures of mankind, if their many wives were not already more than enough, although once again the need for procreative sex beyond the mortal coil, seems to have been relegated to mere social gratification.

On what happens after death and before the Last Judgment, there is little agreement among Christian traditions. Catholics and Orthodox differ in that the former believe God judges each person to heaven, hell or purgatory while in the latter they are just assigned these places until the last judgment.

Following the dogma of physical resurrection of Jesus, all souls are to be reunited with their physical bodies in the day of judgment and will then experience physical pain and pleasure, perfecting the nature of heaven and hell alike. How this can make any sense in biological terms escapes the imagination. There is also unresolved debate about whether Christ will have a thousand year millennium rule on Earth.

According to Islamic eschatology, after death, one will reside in the grave until the appointed resurrection. The sequence of events according to Muslim belief are the annihilation of all creatures (effectively a cosmic-genocide), resurrection of bodies, and the judgment of all creatures, including the jinn. Sunnis and Shia also debate the role of Jesus in the judgment, some Shia saying he will stand behind the Mahdi, the Islamic version of the apocalyptic messiah, and worship al-Llah in Mecca, while some Sunni say there is no mahdi except Isa (Jesus).

The monotheistic eschatology of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic paths is a linear causality leading from Genesis to Apocalypse in which there is little any of us can do about anything, because although we must have free-will to be able to sin, the only purpose for life and existence is to be caught in an ultimate division between slavish obedience to God's commands, along with the additional moral caveats from murder to greed and envy, resulting in eternal life in which all our desires are fulfilled, or exerting our will to rebel against this divine order, only to find ourselves in eternal torment.

The stumbling block for cosmology and our place in the universe is that, once this whole contrivance is taken on board, its entire ultimate meaning and purpose is frozen. What is the meaning or purpose of eternal damnation, or eternal heaven? What useful role could we possibly have to play in these imaginary and highly transfixed fantasies? Can any decision we might make in heaven have any effect on the cosmic order? Was the rebellion of the fallen angels and Satan and their casting out into Satan's own noir polar domain of Hell an indication that God himself is a flawed being - a dictator who stands in the way of the ultimate reality, as a legislative demiurge, Yaltabaoth, Samael (blind) or Saklas (fool), which the Gnostics accused him of being? In closer scrutiny, the whole monotheistic edifice, along with the pagan notions of the Trinity, virgin birth and physical resurrection in Christianity, is as flawed as the iconic deities that 'pagan' polytheists are accused of worshiping, as false Gods.

Even more unclear is why a God who ostensibly can create all the magical complexity of paradise, not to mention the vast and complex universe we know exists today, would use it for the menial purpose of judging sin and then condemning the good, bad and ugly alike to seemingly meaningless lives trapped in positive and negative utopias splitting the natural reality asunder into a dualistic schism that renders heaven as incomplete as hell is.

Now that we do understand the huge number of galaxies, each with billions of stars and planetary systems potentially capable of supporting life, why God would focus exclusively on the third rock from the Sun, and within it, the small company of the Hebrew tribes as his elect, lacks both credibility and cosmological sense. To focus his apparently all-too human personality traits of jealousy over whether he was followed as Yahweh, let alone as Ahura Mazda, or equally dominant and cosmic Krishna, or even as dark Shiva in Tantric consort with Shakti, as Yahweh was originally paired with Asherah, runs counter to his being a cosmological deity worshiped by all people in all cultures as an intrinsic revealed truth.

Why the entire evolution of the universe and potentially countless other living systems should be reduced to this one parochial theme of jealousy between God and a few human tribes a couple of millennia before we came to the planetary tipping-point, of scientific discovery, technological explosion, nuclear mutually assured destruction, mass extinction of biodiversity, climatic bifurcation and ecocrisis remains unresolved.

The worst feature of this cosmology is that, rather than presenting a deeper solution to the existential dilemma, it merely reproduces the all-too linear causality we associate with the physical world, with domination and submission, and the enforcement of moral codes, thus not solving the existential dilemma at all. At the same time the concept of dominion over nature leads directly to rape of the planet and its natural resources, just the sort of crisis of triage Revelation anticipates, as a form of misguided human impact.

Heaven and Hell are really a projection of the prisoners' dilemma game and its polarization between cooperative paradise and the temptation to defect and its consequences in mutual betrayal, exploded from a real and tangible social context on to the entire cosmos at large in a way which violates, insults and exploits the very natural realm God is believed to have conceived, at the same time dooming us to a meaningless role as mere pawns in a game of "do what I say, or burn forever".

Although accepting that the primal order was the God-given natural paradise of the Garden of Eden surrounding the Tree of Life, all monotheistic accounts then proceed to exert conflict and violence against the natural order in the name of dominion over nature, partly as a punishment for Adam and Eve's transgression to live by the sweat of their brow conquering the weeds and thorns of the wilderness wracked by the pains of childbirth.

Moreover, all monotheistic paths, from Eden's Fall, on to Deuteronomic Law and Muslim Sharia, set men over women, just as God is set above men. Women are thus accused of original sin as the betrayers, seducers and enticers, to be seen and not heard, to be sequestered in burqas for fear their sexuality will drive faithful men mad, or mix up the patriarchal basis of tribal inheritance, doomed to be of only half the value of a man and subject to dire penalties, such as stoning, for sexual transgression.

From this end, both sexuality, and nature, become cursed as the slime of bestial physicality, which all men need to abhor, to seek the true God in the heavens, beyond the fallacy and fallibility of the mortal coil. But this is a root violation of 'mother nature', upon whom we depend for our very survival, unlike the indulgence of belief in an invisible paternal deity, and it is a violation of the ultimate altruistic covenant of sexual procreation between woman and man as interdependent beings, each contributing a commensurate share of their genetic endowment to the passage of the generations, in which the female makes the principal investment in parenting.

Again implicit in this story of betrayal is a profound weakening of the spirit, because we all inherit the mantle of fallibility, being sinners who can only redeem ourselves, not by our own innate wisdom, nor by deep transcendental meditation, but merely by becoming effective slaves of al-Llah, or worshiping Christ as Lord of the cosmos, despite the hints from the oldest gnostic texts that Jesus himself sought to give us the keys to assuming Christ nature, and the records of early Muslim historians that Muhammad changed his mind, resulting in the satanic verses cursing the Goddess.

Monotheism, rather than offering a cosmological solution, is actually a social and cultural mechanism by which moral forces and submission to an higher power are combined, to evoke phalanx societies, which have a high degree of internal cooperation, which enables these societies to survive in crude Darwinian terms, by being more able to compete with and conquer other societies. Despite their pretenses to being under the banner of God, the merciful and compassionate, the realities are enforcement of moral codes through splitting the souls of believers between glowing accounts of heaven and dire penalties, both in this life and the imagined after-life, for any transgressor.

Richard the Lionheart beheading 2700 Muslim men,
women and children at Acre during the Crusades (Hallam).

The clash of the cultures between the Muslim and the tacitly Judeo-Christian Western world, although also accused of being rampantly materialist, exemplifies this incapacity to heal monotheism into one autonomous faith, except by conquest and submission, because of the intrinsic violence of domination and utopian supremacy implicit in all monotheistic faiths.

The history of military violence spanning the Jewish zealots from Jesus' time through to the Prince of Curls who burned hundreds of Christians at Naryan, half way from Mecca to Saba in S. Arabia shortly before Muhammad, through Christian obsessive suicidal martyrdom, bestial Crusade and diabolical Inquisition attests to this. The equally violent genocide of 700 Jewish men at Medina ordered by Muhammad for fear they might betray the Muslims, and repressive Muslim division of the world between the Domains of Islam or submission to al-Llah and Dar al Harb - the 'Domain of War', abetted by conversion by the sword, in the perceived ultimate utopian victory of Islam, as a monolith of scripture, law and state, tells the same unholy story. Endless wars and genocides perpetrated in the name of these three religions make this association clear.

We therefore need to turn to other paths, including those of the East and of diverse cultures, to see if any of these show a deeper reflection of the cosmological and existential condition, or merely represent extremes of cultural diversity in the human imagination.

1 comment:

bodysoulmakeover said...

KOOL, So beautiful to know the truth..