Tag Archives: civilization

To maintain stability, complex societies moralized their Gods?

A recent study has found that, in the course of history, complex societies throughout the world evolved a moral interpretation of their Gods, rather than the opposite. By moral it is meant the application of dualism, the rewarding of good and the punishment of evil. This does not suggest that duality of good and bad did not exist before, but that it became solidified and mandatory in its decrees and consequences, moving towards black and white rather than grey shades. Divine moralization of this kind occurs in a regular and predictable pattern: “we systematically coded records from 414 societies that span the past 10,000 years from 30 regions around the world, using 51 measures of social complexity and 4 measures of supernatural enforcement of morality. Our analyses not only confirm the association between moralizing gods and social complexity, but also reveal that moralizing gods follow—rather than precede—large increases in social complexity. Contrary to previous predictions, powerful moralizing ‘big gods’ and prosocial supernatural punishment tend to appear only after the emergence of ‘megasocieties’ with populations of more than around one million people.” On the one hand, this seems reasonable because as social complexity increases, so do social problems; the more people there are, the more effort and management will be needed to keep them stable*. Therefore, the priesthood (whose task it was to officiate rituals and interpret signs) tended to support the moralization of the Gods in order to promote social harmony; perhaps the Gods themselves changed their behavior towards the changing society that worshipped them. But on the other hand, moralization can serve a political function for the upper classes at the expense of the lower. Moralization can only go so far before people notice a discrepancy among classes and groups. Thus, it is no wonder there is a connection between it and imperialism: “Moralizing gods are not a prerequisite for the evolution of social complexity, but they may help to sustain and expand complex multi-ethnic empires after they have become established. By contrast, rituals that facilitate the standardization of religious traditions across large populations generally precede the appearance of moralizing gods. This suggests that ritual practices were more important than the particular content of religious belief to the initial rise of social complexity.” This realization makes me reflect on the content of this website. On one hand, I have been trying to promote a rediscovery of original religious traditions/ideas, together with distinct standardizations of those within distinct communities. But on the other, I have also moralized the Gods to a certain extent (mainly as far as indigenism is concerned) in order to solve the complex problem of how to revive polytheism nowadays in the most stable, effective and fair manner. Everyone would need to return to simple animism and the earliest form of society in order to do away with these instances of occasional cognitive dissonance. But such is complexity: it is both beautiful in its bounty and cruel in its confusion.

 

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* A notable example of this moralization is in Hesiod, who writes in the early Archaic period (around 750 BCE), at a time when the population and social complexity of Greece had increased greatly. The difference between his views and those of Homer, who is said to have lived a mere 50 years before, is striking. In Works and Days, Hesiod invokes Zeus several times as a God of justice who can right the wrongs of the oppressed and reform what Hesiod perceived to be a declining society.

Polemical topics for polytheists (part 15): Equality & Hierarchy

First view: Polytheists should oppose hierarchy because monotheists are so strongly for it

Second view: Polytheists should embrace hierarchy because it brought civilization which in ancient times were polytheistic

Balanced view: Hierarchy is inherent to any society, even that of the Gods, but it ought to have a limit set by tradition, law and necessity

It is interesting to observe, in the first place, that the term hierarchy was once one related to religion and meant “authority of a high priest”. In the early societies of civilization, a ruler often combined religious and political authority, serving as a priest-king. This position of power, besides fulfilling an important function, served to remind people that the natural order of the world was one where certain ranks existed, and there was always a head to rule and carry the burdens of such authority. Indeed, all societies, even the simplest bands of hunter-gatherers, acknowledged the reality of hierarchy; even the Gods acknowledge that it is needed among themselves. Nobody is truly equal to another in regard to wealth or power, and yet all people are equally important for society, regardless of their rank. Hierarchy brings stability and strength, which in turn ensure the well-being and survival of a society, not only within itself, but also among others. Nevertheless, hierarchy operates best when moderation is applied to it, because it is this moderation or limitation that keeps the structure sustainable and healthy. If hierarchy is too rigidly and unjustly expressed, there is risk for grievance and revolt, which could overturn the whole society. This is why tradition and law are needed regulate hierarchy, which is often difficult nowadays because of the exorbitant size of society and power of the state. A hierarchy becomes too complex and imperfect, therefore unjust, when it is applied to millions of people as we see nowadays. Hence, smaller countries are most often happier than larger ones, which can’t fail to remind us about the harmful effects of imperialism, i.e. expansive power and wealth. Nor does this secular, materialistic world take care to counterbalance law with ritual tradition*; there are no priest-kings today who fear a power above them. Polytheism once again can set the world straight, and we certainly should not imitate the Christian Church or the Roman Empire to do so. We need institutions and communities which can accept and apply a moderate measure of hierarchy, just enough to bring our hopeful movement to stability, strength and renown rather than weakness in the face of so many competitors. And if those who are wise, just and pious lead, we will surely please the Gods, consolidate our own ranks, and attract many numbers of disaffected people from monotheism who are tired of the absolutism in their institutions and indeed in their god.

 

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*The same world which produced capitalism and modern colonialism, the most horrid systems of inequality.