2008/10/13

Potential Evils of Clerical Babble


One of the problems with growing old is the pain of remembering your mistakes. Whether you meant to or not, if you hurt or harmed someone (especially a youngster and especially without cause), you’ll remember it with remorse.

About 10 years ago, my daughter reminded me of one such incident of mine, which I had totally forgotten and which happened more than 20 years earlier. Maybe if I had been a better father, she wouldn’t have reminded me!

Anyway, at the time (when my daughter was about 10 years old) I was coaching her city-league baseball team. (She was the only girl on the team.) When I was trying to explain something to the kids about a baseball’s trajectory, I reportedly used the word ‘gravity’, and one of the kids asked: “What’s gravity?”

It was an intelligent question; no doubt, he asked it innocently. I should have responded in a manner appropriate to the occasion and for the questioner, with something similar to: “It’s what makes everything fall.” But unfortunately, as I have a tendency to do, I went overboard.

In my own defense, I hasten to add the following. I’ve always been impressed by both how amazing Nature is and how little we know about her: Exactly what is an electron? What is energy? What is space? What is gravity? Also, I’ve always felt obliged to convey to others (especially to youngsters) my awe of the challenging wonders of Nature. And maybe I should add that, at about the same time that I was coaching the team, I was giving lectures on general relativity in my tensor analysis course.

Actually, I don’t recall my response to the kid’s question: “What’s gravity?” I expect that I tried to explain Newton’s idea about attraction between masses, maybe I mentioned Einstein’s idea about mass warping space-time, but apparently, I also tried to convey the mystery of gravity. In particular and probably in response to lot of blank stares on the kids’ faces, my daughter informed me that I ended my “lecture” with something similar to the following: “But I think that the real reason why everything falls toward the center of the Earth is because, at the center of the Earth, there’s a huge bowl of caramel pudding, and since everybody and everything likes caramel pudding, everything tries to get to it; so, balls and kids always fall down, trying to get to the caramel pudding.”

Sorry, kids, that was supposed to be a joke! My daughter informed me, however, that as a comic, I should stick to coaching city-league baseball. She said that for years afterwards, kids (then in their teens) clung to the idea that the Earth’s center was made of caramel pudding!

Which leads me to the subject of this post: the potential evils lurking in all myths, such as my myth that, at the center of the Earth, there’s a huge bowl of caramel pudding. The reason that potential evils lurk in all myths is clear from Socrates’ assessment:
There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.
That is, whereas all myths are just silly stories camouflaging ignorance, with that ignorance lurks the potential for evil.

Of course, the potential evil in myths needn’t materialize; it depends on each listener’s skepticism. In any event, what seems obvious is that kids shouldn’t be indoctrinated with any myths. Instead, they should be stimulated to be skeptical of all explanations and to seek answers themselves, applying the scientific method (“guess, test, and reassess”).

With my caramel-pudding myth, I don’t know how much harm I caused. I hope I didn’t ruin some kid’s potential to be a physicist! Who knows – maybe I helped those kids to be skeptical of what any adult tells them, e.g., using meaningless words such as ‘God’ and ‘supernatural’, misused words such as ‘miracle’ and ‘soul’, oxymoronic expressions such as “life after death” and “eternal happiness”, and similar nonsense.

As an illustration of such nonsense in the Bible’s Old Testament (OT), consider some of the ignorance (and therefore, potential evils) in the myth concocted to “explain” the existence of so many languages, namely, the silly story at Genesis 11 about the Tower of Babel (a play on the word ‘Babylon’). The author obviously didn’t realize that hominids lived in Africa millions of years ago, that our ancestors (the Mitochondrial Eve and the Y-chromosomal Adam) lived in southern Africa about 150 thousand years ago, that Homo sapiens wandered out of Africa 50 to 80 thousand years ago, that when people encounter new experiences they develop new words and expressions, and that languages commonly change even during a single generation – doncha know!

Instead, the author (commonly identified as “J”) of the silly Tower of Babel story posits the following “explanation” [to which I’ve added some notes in brackets, in part to comment on the additional “information” in the story about the clerics’ god(s)].
Once upon a time all the world spoke a single language and used the same words [which is reasonable enough, although it would be more accurate to say that the first hominids developed capabilities to make more sounds than their anthropoid cousins]. As men journeyed in the east they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar [the Mesopotamian land of the Sumerians, now southern Iraq] and settled there [which is interesting that the author is thereby suggesting that Homo sapiens traveled east to Sumer, but actually, the origin of the Sumerians (who seem to have arrived in Mesopotamia in about 5,000 BCE) is still unknown; arguments can be found suggesting that they came from the south, north, or further east, but I haven’t seen any suggestions in the archeological literature that they came from the west, as claimed in the Bible)].

They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them hard”; they used bricks for stone and bitumen for mortar. [Incidentally, archeological data show that “bitumen glue” was used at Umm el Tlel, Syria, about 32 kyrs (32,000 years!) before the first Tower of Babylon was built, in about 2,000 BCE, and therefore, about 28 kyrs before the biblical Adam was allegedly created. Further, in the myth that “J” used to create his Tower of Babel myth, namely, the myth (from more than 2,000 years before the OT was cobbled together) called Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, the shrine was built not as was the Tower of Babylon (with clay bricks); instead, “the people of Aratta shall bring down mountain stones from their mountains and shall build the great shrine”, similar to how, during the same time period, the Egyptians were building their pyramids.]

“Come,” they said, “let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and make a name for ourselves; or we shall be dispersed all over the earth.” [Notice that, thereby, 1) the author ignored the reason for building the Tower of Babylon that’s stated clearly in the Sumerian myth Enuma Elish (namely, a sanctuary for the gods), since that myth almost certainly would have been available {e.g., at the Nineveh Library of Ashurbanipal (called Asenappar or Osnapper in the OT, e.g., at Ezra 4, 10)} just as the Sumerian flood myth was obviously available to the authors of the OT (as I outlined in the previous post) and 2) the author ignored the reason (which I’ll outline later in this post) for building the earlier sanctuary that was described in the source myth.]

Then the Lord [Yahweh] came down to see the city and tower which mortal men had built [so much for God’s claimed omniscience, e.g., the ability to know all and see all from his heavenly throne!], and he said, “Here they are, one people with a single language, and now they have started to do this; henceforward nothing they have a mind to do will be beyond their reach. [Let’s hope so!] Come, let us go down there [is he again (as at Genesis 3, 22) talking to the other gods?] and confuse their speech, so that they will not understand what they say to one another.” [A real nice guy, this god, thwarting human progress. What’s the matter: is he jealous? It reminds me of what the Greek god Poseidon (the Roman god, Neptune) allegedly said to Zeus (Roman, Jove) upon seeing the Greeks build ramparts to protect themselves on the beach from retaliation by the Trojans, as given in Homer’s myth The Iliad (Book VII), written in about 700 BCE and to which I’ve added the notes in braces, {…}:

Thus did the Achaeans {i.e., the Greeks} toil {building a fortification for themselves and their ships}, and the gods, seated by the side of Jove {Zeus} the lord of lightning, marveled at their great work; but Neptune {Poseidon} lord of the earthquake {and of the oceans} spoke, saying, “Father Jove, what mortal in the whole world will again take the gods into his counsel? See you not how the Achaeans have built a wall about their ships and driven a trench all round it, without offering hecatombs {sacrifices} to the gods? The fame of this wall will reach as far as dawn itself, and men will no longer think anything of the one which Phoebus Apollo and myself built…”]

So the Lord dispersed them from there all over the earth [which, of course, is silly, since humans had already dispersed “all over the earth” tens of thousands of years earlier], and they left off building the city [which is more nonsense; in particular, the (first) Tower of Babylon was destroyed basically because the clay bricks weren’t structurally sound and there was a host of reasons for abandoning cities (wars and their destruction, floods of the river valleys, salinization of the soil because of irrigation, etc.]. That is why it is called Babel, because the lord there made a babble of the language of all the world; from that place the Lord scattered men all over the face of the earth. [Which, of course, is more nonsense, since different languages had developed tens of thousands of years earlier.]
Thereby, the author of this biblical myth (“J”) not only subverted he even inverted (!) a central moral of the original myth, namely, to assist communications among humans. In the original myth, Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, communications were improved by the King of Kulaba’s creation of writing:
His speech was substantial, and its contents extensive. The messenger, whose mouth was heavy, was not able to repeat it. Because the messenger, whose mouth was tired, was not able to repeat it, the lord of Kulaba patted some clay and wrote the message as if on a tablet. Formerly, the writing of messages on clay was not established. Now, under that sun and on that day, it was indeed so. The lord of Kulaba inscribed the message like a tablet.
But of more relevance to the involvement of the gods, the original myth (quoted above and below, in which I’ve added a note, changed some punctuation, and added the italics) states that the purpose was to build a temple to Enlil (the lord of the wind and earth, father of the gods, son of the high god Anu – a forerunner of Mithra, Jupiter, Zeus, and Jesus) in which the people of many tongues would praise Enlil in a single language:
On that day when there is no snake, when there is no scorpion, when there is no hyena, when there is no lion, when there is neither dog nor wolf, when there is thus neither fear nor trembling, man has no rival! At such a time, may the lands of Cubur and Hamazi (the many-tongued) and Sumer (the great mountain of the me [i.e., “decrees of divine authority”] of magnificence) and Akkad (the land possessing all that is befitting) and the Martu land (resting in security) – the whole universe, the well-guarded people – may they all address Enlil together in a single language! For at that time, for the ambitious lords, for the ambitious princes, for the ambitious kings, Enki, for the ambitious lords, for the ambitious princes, for the ambitious kings, for the ambitious lords, for the ambitious princes, for the ambitious kings – Enki, the lord of abundance and of steadfast decisions, the wise and knowing lord of the Land, the expert of the gods, chosen for wisdom, the lord of Eridug, shall change the speech in their mouths, as many as he had placed there, and so the speech of mankind is truly one.
What astounding perversion is contained in the Bible! A myth with a tremendous moral, about building such a super sanctuary for a god that “the speech of mankind [would be] truly one” appears in the bible as a myth with an inverted, perverted moral, with the new Jewish god smashing the temple and subverting abilities of people to communicate with one another!

And thus, from the above silly biblical story, first one can clearly see the essence of all myths: they’re just speculations proposed to answer some question, such as: Why does everything fall toward the Earth? (Because the center of the Earth is filled with caramel pudding.) Why are there so many languages? (Because God didn’t like it when people built the Tower of Babylon.) But in the case of the caramel-pudding myth, at least I can claim credit (?!) for concocting the idea. In contrast, the author (“J”) of this Tower of Babel myth not only plagiarized another Sumerian myth (just as he plagiarized the Sumerian flood myth to form his Noah myth), he changed the morals of both the myths to bolster the new priesthood, to instill in the poor Jewish people fear of the clerics’ god (i.e., fear of the clerics).

Yet, although the above Tower of Babel myth is just childish, clerical babble, it reveals more about the clerics’ (imagined) gods – that is to say, it reveals more about the clerics and, therefore, about the potential evils lurking in their myths:
  • The god (Yahweh) of the author ( “J”) of the above (Tower of Babel) myth is certainly a pathetic little god compared with the god (Elohim) of the author (possibly “E”, but I expect it was Ezra or a co-conspirator) who wrote the creation myth in Genesis 1 (i.e., compared with the “Persian” creator god, who zapped together the universe and everything in it during six days). Personally, I can’t fathom how any modern human who is sane could tolerate the incoherencies in the descriptions of a god who could orchestrate the Big Bang and, yet, he needs to drop down from heaven to check out what the Ancient Babylonians were doing – and then, obstructs humans from communicating with one another by creating a babble of languages. I suspect, however, that the resolution of my dilemma is to remove the adjective ‘sane’ from the description of such humans.
  • The cleric who wrote the Tower of Babel myth (plagiarizing and distorting the earlier Sumerian myth) was – and in fact, all clerics are – amazingly disrespectful (and na├»ve) about “knowledge”. Real knowledge (e.g., Sumerian knowledge about how to make wheels spin on axles, how to build canals to irrigate fields, how to construct walls, buildings, and towers, how to record the spoken word, etc.) is gained by the scientific method (“guess, test, and reassess”). In contrast, to gain what they claim to be ‘knowledge’, clerics not only just speculate, they then “sanctify” their speculation by invoking their gods. For example, wanting knowledge about why so many languages exist, the cleric who wrote the above stupid myth proclaims that his god simply snapped his fingers (or whatever) to create different languages. Such naivety – combined with arrogance (leading to the ignorant, arrogant certainty of all clerics) stimulates scientists (and surely stimulates any thinking human) to want to grab clerics by their shoulders and just shake them, with the hope that some sense could be shaken into their feeble brains – and some sense of honesty could be retrieved from their subverted humanity.
  • The cleric who wrote the above myth was obviously opposed to progress (in this case, the building of the Tower of Babylon). Similar is the case for all clerics: they seek to maintain the status quo (with them in power). Historical illustrations include the resistance of Jewish clerics (and Greek clerics) to Greek knowledge and Roman progress (e.g., in science, medicine, engineering, governance, laws, religious tolerance, etc.), Christian clerics causing Europe’s Dark Ages, Islamic clerics causing the Muslim’s Dark Ages (which continues today), and similarly today, the (in-a-way) humorous attempts of fundamentalist clerics in the US (especially Christians and Mormons) to hold their followers somewhere between a half and a full century behind mainstream American culture. A generous person might say that clerics appreciate their culture’s accomplishments; a sympathetic person might say that clerics (like little children) are timid souls (hesitant about adopting changes); I’m of the opinion that the clerics’ primary motive is to maintain their power and perceived prestige.
With progress, with more people realizing what timid, dishonest, arrogant, charlatans all clerics are, we can look forward to the day when all the damn clerics of the world will be forced to descend to the level of the rest of us, bravely adapting to change, honestly struggling to understand via applications of the scientific method, humbly admitting how little we’ve managed to learn, and (horrors of horrors for the clerics) working for a living, producing something of value for fellow humans.

But when that time comes, pity the poor clerics: the pain they'll feel, the remorse they'll have for all the harm they've done (especially to children) may be unbearable.

www.zenofzero.net

No comments:

Post a Comment