Barbara G. Walker, among her many talents, is a Biblical scholar, author of books like The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Man Made God. Her latest essay, “Deconstructing Religion and Power,” draws links between the origins of man and the rise of religion. (FFRF, Vo. 32, No. 8, October 2015, pg 24.) Everyone seeks power as an impulse stemming from having experienced absolute powerlessness as an infant, she begins. As a consequence, the first and oldest deities were mother goddesses, derived from a baby’s dependence on a giant figure who fed it, and washed and comforted it when it cried. Crying, Walker speculates, was the earliest form of prayer, an incantation which summoned the giant and coaxed it to see to our infant needs.
Unfortunately, our experience with giant creatures to whom we could appeal has left us with a false impression that we hold a position of importance in the universe. We don’t, says Walker. So, when our incantations fail, rather than hold God(s) accountable, we blame demons. Demons, she argues, exist precisely for the purpose of keeping us from becoming disillusioned with ourselves or with God(s).
Frankly, I see no way to prove or disprove Walker’s speculations but hubris can root itself in our psyche when we imagine a powerful deity floats in the firmament with no greater purpose than to answer our prayers. If that belief were true, one would have to wonder, even with the existence of lesser demons, why good fortune is so unevenly distributed… why a child dies in one hospital bed while a child in the next survives. Presumably, both sets of parent prayed for their off-spring’s deliverance.
Faith and reason often appear to have little commerce with one another and of the two, faith holds the greatest influence. Our psyches seem to require an association with something larger than ourselves which, I suspect, goes beyond the desire for immortality. Certainly, logic cowers before belief.
I don’t quarrel with a person’s need for faith. I see no harm in praying to the sky. But one exception does come to mind: when the will to believe locks arms with the will to power. When one way of praying to the sky takes ascendancy over another, evil is likely to arise. History is rife with villains who claim to know God’s will and in their righteous fury, they have drenched the ground in so much blood, it fogs the atmosphere and the only color before our eyes is blood red.
Religion has its merit. It can build cohesive societies and encourage nurturing communities. But when its loses itself in politics and the will to power, it becomes something else entirely, the way a mixture of yellow and blue becomes green. If we are blind to this transformation, if we mistake this new entity for God’s word, then we give the practitioners of this “faith” the ability to command us to lay down our minds and our lives as sheep preparing for slaughter. Religion in its true face invites us to search for our humanity. When the will to power disguises itself as faith, it takes on the red glow of brutality. By that glow, we can distinguish one from the other. (For a related blogs see, 6/12/12 & 11/19/15)