Ramblings of an Old Man on Religion
Everyone on earth has an opinion on God. I have my own opinions, just as you have yours, and many others have their thoughts. Furthermore, it seems to me that wherever a group of men gather to discuss matters of the sacred, irrevocable differences and resentments are sure to follow.
It seems to me that every voice in such a meeting seeks to proposite some universal truth, to which, it is expected, all other heads need only nod in approval. For this reason, I feel that discussions on religion are remarkable windows into power politics.
I could be wrong, but I feel that every man who assents to another man's views has, in essence, assented to that man. A person who aggrees is a person who will serve, and it is for this reason that I feel contemporary discussion on religion are so vitriolic.
We might consider that, between to peers, the leader of the two has several ways to maintain control. First, through charisma. Second, through intimidation. These two methods are often supplemented by two others: The one, through expertise, and the other, through tradition.
In days far older than the birth of Christ, religious leadership belonged to brutes. In such an environment, one might expect dissenting opinion to be quickly silenced by the men with the bigger spears. It is in such situations that when the Frankish King, Clovis I converted to Catholicism after the battle of Cologne, 3,000 of his soldiers were baptised with him. Those who did not were summarily executed, and those that escaped soon found themselves shunned by the increasingly Catholic populace.
Brute strength might have proved decisive in the northerly lands of Germanic Europe, but it is concievable that other approaches to maintaining power may be used. A good example, I feel, might be that of the Sumerian Priesthood, which came to power in times more ancient than the Franks, and which lives on in popular culture as the mysterious archetype of The Literati.
The Sumerian Priesthood came to power through the use of Astronomy. By watching the movements of the sun and stars, they gained almost god-like power over elemental weather, or so it seemed in the eyes of farmers near the Tigris and Euphrates.
Imagine, then, that you are able to speak to others, "It will flood", and have it happen. The Priesthood knew when the floods would come, as they were driven by water runnoff from melting snow in the mountains. It is a simple trick, but to those who lacked any kind of education or knowledge about the natural world, such an ability must have been sufficiently advanced to appear as Magic.
As the story goes, the Priests of Mesopotamia leveraged their expertise into real symbols of power and authority. Such authority allowed the rise of vast cities and grand civilizations, of course, for only such an establishment could carry the weight of tribute grain.
It is interesting here, to note that the remaining two methods upon which power may be acquired form the stone foundations of the Cities of the West. It appears that we need look no further for a shining figure than the figure of the Christ. Indeed, many people say so many different things about this one. At the same time, however, I would find it hard to say that Jesus Christ lacked Charisma.
As for the other cornerstone, we must ask what else was Rome reknowned for, if not Law? The Roman Scales of Justice symbolise much more than equal treatment under law. They are, to me, a promise of an ideal. They are an allusion to equality between all men and women. Every western concept of Balance and Universal Suffrage and yes, even great Democracy is represented in that image of antiquity.
But what of these methods for acquiring power? What of these methods for control? Is it truth, then, that power and influence are as natural to human nature as is hopping to a Kangaroo? I feel that one may easily observe such situations even now, where different people fight for recognition and prestige.
Perhaps it really is a totem-pole mentality. Perhaps Religion, or some institution like it, is a necessary force through which the forms of future public figures are so strongly forged? Or perhaps it's just all exercises in denial; some sort of silly game of sadistic masochism? Are we fooling ourselves? Perhaps, for many men have gained the world, but for never very far.