Prepositions and Miracles

Prepositions and Miracles

Pentecost 122

As you know I love feedback from you guys, my readers and followers.  It is, after all the purpose of this blog – to engage in conversation as we engage in our living.  I do not identify the responder unless they request it due to privacy concerns and respect but I do value each of you deeply.  Over the weekend I was asked a really interesting question:  Aren’t these myths out of date?

I mentioned several days ago that a family member had been in an automobile accident and was in a coma.  She remains in a coma and while some progress has been seen, the outlook is still up in the air.  In other words, we are hoping and praying for a miracle.  Tomorrow her youngest will celebrate her second birthday so while it has become the new “normal” to visit her in the hospital, this celebration of life is also reminding us of the fragility of life.

The mythologies of mankind also served to remind us about the fragility of life.  While they seldom called the endings of their tales of colorful characters, fantastic exploits, and incredible out-of-this-world powers “miracles”, that is how other writings would classify them.  More importantly, they were guidelines for living and, since we are all still living, then I don’t believe them to be out of date.

Depending on the culture, the purpose of the myths varied while many of the characters and deeds were strikingly similar.  While there seems to have been a “parallel development” as Carl Jung phrased it in the development of similar stories, some simply choose to believe that these commonalities are the result of travel.  They believe that, like the trade winds that carried the trading vessels to all parts of the world, exploration and travel carried the stories that were then altered to fit the culture.  I choose to believe there is a much simpler answer: We are all human.

In the throes of tragedy or great confusion, we need to make order out of the chaos.  It is how our brains function and the mind works.  Our eyes see everything as it is but how our brain interprets those visions is not always accurate.  Place a large rectangle in a room identified to us as a bedroom and the rectangle is first thought to be a bed because it makes sense.  That is why fifty eye witnesses can all be telling what they perceive to be the truth and yet none of them tell the same story.

Mythology is the collection of man’s attempt to make order from the chaos that life sometimes throws our way.  The stories may seem unbelievable to those of us living in the twenty-first century but that is just because we have become egotistical.  We think, with all our technology, that we know all the answers.  We don’t even know all the questions so how can we possible know all the answers?

One of my favorite parts of speech is the lowly preposition.  Like the myths of old and even those newer ones, prepositions give us direction.  Place the candle…where?  On the table.  Run…where?  Up the hill.  Where is she hiding?  Around the corner.    Often overlooked, the importance of the preposition is found in its definition:  “a word governing, and usually preceding, a noun or pronoun and expressing a relation to another word or element in the clause”; “a relationship between other words in a sentence”.

Mythologies, those weird stories about even weirder deities that can’t have possibly defied the laws of gravity to accomplish what they allegedly achieved, are all about our relationships – to nature, to each other, to ourselves, and to the universe.  A simple word such as “in” or “after” or “on” may seem insignificant or meaningless but really, without them we would be lost.  We would be left with only “here” or “there”.  We would have no relationship with our living.

I cannot prove that miracle have ever occurred but to an ancient Greek or aborigine, I think the lifting of a space ship that then circles the planet while men and women live within it might just qualify.  What we consider science today was once an imaginary story, the dream of someone many considered crazy.  The miraculous cures that saved many from plagues and viral epidemics are science but they are also answered prayers.

In December we will discuss prayers for all cultures have some sort of them, regardless of what they are called.  Today, though, think about the prepositions in your speech and your actions.  I picked the cup of tea up off the table.  I pushed the vacuum across the floor.  I placed my hand on the puppy’s head.  I also petted the cat but anyone who is owned by a cat knows the cat places their head under your hand!  I raise my spirits and prayers to the supreme being of my beliefs.  It may be neither here nor there but the fact is we are here and, for my at least, mythologies still hold meaning.  And I will continue to have hope that my family member will experience the miracle of science and faith in her recovery.

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A Constant Light

A Constant Light

Pentecost 95

It is known as the North Star.  The brightest star in the night sky, children learn to first find the constellation Ursa Minor and then look at the tip of its handle to locate it.  Known by its scientific name of Polaris, this tar is the celestial body most closely aligned with the north pole of the earth’s axis and has been used to guide mankind home since the beginning of time… except that it hasn’t.

The constellations were once one of man’s greatest mythologies and the basis for many gods and goddesses.  Which came first?  It is not pertinent to our discussion today but it is a great topic for discussion.  Did someone name a grouping of stars in the visible night sky after belief in a particular deity or was an image seen in the night heavens the reason for a particular belief?

Polaris is the star most closely aligned to the north and many call it brightest star in the nighttime sky.  Actually, it is not the brightest, coming in at approximately number fifty, depending on where you are, the time of year, and a number of other factors.  Polaris has not always been the North Star, either.

Three thousand years before the common era (BCE), a star known as Thuban in the constellation Draco served as the North Star.  Today it is invisible in urban areas being only one-fifth as bright as Polaris.  One thousand years BCE, a Greek navigator named Pytheas disdained the concept of a North Star.  Ursa Minoris was actually the star closest to the north celestial pole but it was too far to be of any real use for navigation.  During Roman times the celestial pole was equal distance between Cynosura and Kochab, Ursa Minoris A and Ursa Minoris B.

Kochab is actually one hundred and thirty times more luminous and these two stars are found in the bowl of the Little Dipper, Ursa Minor.  Cynosura was also known in Anglo-Saxon England by the name scip-steorra or “ship star”.  Cynosura was called Stella Polaris in the sixteenth century although it was several degrees from the actual northern celestial pole.

The earth may seem constant to us, the ground usually remaining under our feet except for earthquakes and sink holes but in reality the earth is always moving.  As it rotates around the sun, it also rotates on its axis which means that the North Star of today will not be the North Star of the tomorrow in time to come.  Around the year 3000 ACE, the star Gamma Cephei or Alrai will become the star closest to the northern celestial pole.  It will be replaced by that Star Iota Cephei in the years 5200 ACE, and then in 10000 ACE, the star Deneb will be the North Star at a position within five degrees of the North Pole.

Polaris, our current North Star, will once again regain its throne as the star closest to the northern celestial pole in 27800 ACE (or CE) but it will not be as close to the pole as it is now.  In fact, Its closest position the North Pole was in 23600 BCE.  Does this mean we should not use Polaris as a guide to determine the compass point of north if lost?  Of course it doesn’t.  It simply means that life is constantly evolving and mankind is as well.

The religion, beliefs, or faith of mankind have long been used as a guiding principle for how one lives.  Whether or not you consider yourself religious or spiritual, you have a sense of self, a sense of how to live.  Even the most spontaneous individual has a system for living.  When we feel hunger, we hope to something to eat.  When cold, we seek warmth, either from a change in room temperature, by applying more clothing, or by leaving the frigid area.  Life is based upon stimulus-response.

The monotheistic mythologies of the Abrahamic religions gave a sense of navigation to their deity.  Ancient mythologies had man reacting to the deities of the various cultures but this monotheistic deity was more a compass point for daily living.  “Or Goyim” was a “light to the nations”.  Faith was not just to be a part of the collective culture but a personal belief and the deity “Jehovah Ori” not just a deity but “the Lord my light”.

A tree planted in the ground will grow at an approximate rate, much like the North Star is approximately the star closest to the northern celestial pole.  However, as we have learned, Polaris will not always be the North Star and neither will a tree planted grow exactly as another of the same species planted at the same time.  As mankind grew, even with one monotheistic mythology, mankind grew differently and the deity of these faiths was seen from differing perspectives.  There may have been one deity but it had differing interpretations.  The “Jehovah El Emeth”, this “Lord God of truth” was seen from diverse perspectives.

There are those who might claim there is no one deity.  There are those that reject the scientific view that Polaris will not always be the North Star.  After all, who will be around to verify, who could be able to see both Polaris and Gamma Cephai?  The answer is, of course, no one.  Man/Woman cannot live as long as the stars do.

What is important is how we believe.  I need not worry about the North Star three thousand years from now.  I need to worry about that which can lead me home, that which can give my life meaning and purpose.  We all need a North Star in our living, virtual, spiritual, and actual.

To Be or Not to …Exist?

To Be or Not to … Exist?

Pentecost 84

Imagine yourself at midnight on a dark road, away from civilization with only the sounds of the surrounding countryside to keep you company.  Suddenly, light seems to dart across the sky.  It is as if the newly discovered ability to create fire has been found by the nighttime sky.  Suddenly more and more fire streams across the sky.  Is it raining fire and if so, why has it fallen?  As quickly as the streaks of light appeared, they seem to vanish, falling into the oblivion of where the sky meets the earth.

If you were outside the past two nights in the northern hemisphere, you might just have seen the image I described.  Of course, you would have realized that what you were witnessing were the Persoid meteor showers.  The annual meteor shower performance is nothing new but this year the meteors were especially visible due to the new moon being present (or not) at the same time.  The absence of moonlight made the falling meteors appear even brighter than their normal which is so bright that in 2014 the National Space and Aeronautical Agency or NASA deemed the Persoid “Fireball Champion”.

What if mankind had not yet discovered meteors?  What would you have thought then, seeing those bright streaks of light seemingly fall to earth right before your very eyes?  It is easy to understand why our ancestors developed the mythologies they passed on to us, stories that told of angry gods and goddesses controlling the elements.

There were many similar names for the one deity of the Abrahamic mythologies that became the religions we know today of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity:  Elohim Bashamayim, God in Heaven; Jehovah El Elyon, Lord Most High; Jehovah Elohim, Lord God; Jehovah Elohim Ab, the Lord God of Your Forefathers; Jehovah Ha-Melech, The Lord, the King; Elohei Marom, God on High; Elohei Haelohim, the God of Gods; Jehovah Adon Kol Ha-arets, the Lord, the Lord of all the Earth; Jehovah Tsaba, the Lord of Hosts; Elohim Tsebaoth, God of Hosts; Eli Maelekhi, God my King.  All names that were to answer questions about the reality mankind was living each and every day.

The Greek Aristotle sought to explain reality and his views were widely accepted until a man named Isaac Newton began to offer his ideas.  The English writer Alexander Pope explained the impact and popularity of Isaac newton with this: “Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night;  God said, ‘Let Newton be!’ and all was light.”  Newton’s ideas were not all original, though.  One of his first laws about motion and the state of a body of matter, the reality of said body, was actually something first discovered by Galileo: : “Every body continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a straight line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.”

Galileo’s idea strongly opposed the beliefs of the Roman Church, beliefs which were based upon the mythologies that preceded the Church and gave reason for its being.  Those mythologies proclaimed God as the Creator of the earth and so the earth had to be the center of the universe so created.  What this deity had created was their planet, the land beneath their feet.  Their mythologies did not mention outer space or even gravity.  It was the nature of our creation that grounded us, literally and spiritually.

Newton proposed that the reality or state of each body of matter should be and could be described in terms of its position, its velocity, and its acceleration.  Once a person knew these things, Newton postulated the future could be predicted by forecasts of future positions and velocities.  Not only were Newton’s theories more simple than those of Aristotle, they left little room for the effects of a deity on such matter or bodies.  The early religions could find no place for their deity and many, as they had done with Galileo, rejected the science.  This rejection and rift between science and religion continues today.

The fact is that there is much we do not know, much that even our wonderful stories and legends of mortal and immortal deities and mankind has yet to explain.  I am fairly certain that I am alive.  I exist.  The nature of my existence is dependent upon my well-being – mentally, emotionally, and physically.  Like water in a pond, our bodies and minds can stagnate.  I may not be a doctor and I certainly am not Sir Isaac Newton but I do know that my body will stagnate if I fail to care for it and use it.  Muscles atrophy within ten days so if I take a vacation and sit in a chair for two weeks, I have reduced my ability to move.  Spiritually and religiously, we also need to exercise our beliefs.  Science, in my opinion, is not our enemy in doing this but can be a great help.

Once upon a time there was one state of matter – the solid matter which early mankind could see, touch, taste, feel, and hear.  Then there were two as man realized that water could move, air could move; we had a state of liquidity.  The idea of fluid matter gave rise to other ideas, seemingly unrelated and with the invention of a fulcrum or lever, even the heaviest rocks could be moved.  Mankind was on the move and had the ability to alter the solid state of his/her existing terrain.  Then we realized that some solid things or even those that were fluid could disappear, vanish into thin air.  We recognized a third state of matter – gas.  For centuries students were taught that there were three states of matter – solid, liquid, and gas.  The world revolved on its axis very well with these three states of matter and even the religious community embraced it.  The same early Christian Church that had excommunicated Galileo now used the three states as symbolic of their Holy Trinity, a concept of God in three – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Life continued, and consequentially, so did science.  A fourth state of matter was recognized, a state of super-heated gasses called plasma.  We enjoy our plasma screens for entertainment watching and even espouse their educational value in lecture halls but seldom realize their connection to unbelievable mythologies.  Plasma if foretold to our ancestors would have seemed as unbelievable as some of their myths seem to us today.

Don’t get ready to close this page quite yet.  The story of reality isn’t over because, just as life is continuing, so is science.  There is now a fifth state of matter, a fifth way we can exist, called the Bose-Einstein condensate.  First developed as a theory by two scientists in 1925, it took over seventy years to prove.  Just as gas is a state of matter that occurs when things are heated, a reality in which water for example turns to steam and then is dissipated into the atmosphere, the Bose-Einstein condensate is what happens when matter is made as cold as possible, taken down to the temperature known as absolute zero.  Molecules within steam move very fast and when taken to the opposite extreme, to the coldest possible, they have little or no energy at all. It is as if an ancient deity has frozen them for eternity.

If our beliefs are to have value, we need to understand their state of being.  The tenets of my faith are solid to me based upon my education, understand, and believing.  When I share them in the form of compassion, charity, and kindness to all, they become liquid, flowing over all I encounter.  Taking part in what we often term a “mission”, those tenets of faith become are energized and when combined with the work of others, are supercharged in helping an even greater and larger population.

However, and there is a big however, there is that pesky new fifth state of being – even for our belief systems.  That is that state of coldness, the state that we ourselves create when whatever name we call our deity or deities represents coldness.  Our beliefs become cold and reach an absolute zero stage when we alienate.  You have faith and live it or that faith will into a state of being with no energy whatsoever.  It really is that simple.  If our beliefs, our religions, and/or our spiritualities are to exist, we must give them life. It really is the only state of being for one’s faith.

From Myth to Material

From Myth to Material

Pentecost 67

In 1987, an author wrote to a publication regarding the possibility of publishing his work. Recognizing that his writing, like that of a few other authors did not comfortably fit into any established genres, he wittingly came up with a new name for it.

Dear Locus,

Enclosed is a copy of my 1979 novel Morlock Night; I’d appreciate your being so good as to route it Faren Miller, as it’s a prime piece of evidence in the great debate as to who in “the Powers/Blaylock/Jeter fantasy triumvirate” was writing in the “gonzo-historical manner” first. Though of course, I did find her review in the March Locus to be quite flattering.

Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for Powers, Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like ‘steam-punks’, perhaps.

—K.W. Jeter

The writers had taken the imaginings of writers such as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and combined them with the fashion of the Victorian era with the current mythologies of the science fiction world. It may have seemed like an impossible pairing but it was really nothing new.

The genre of science fiction had for a century taken fiction and provided a breeding ground for technological advancements as the stories told became the fact of the modern world. Jules Verne imagined a ship that would sail not on the water but under it, twenty thousand leagues under it, as a matter of fact. The advent of movies made these stories take on visual realities and inspired inventions that today are commonplace.

Verne did not invent the submarine. He named his sub the Nautilus after the real-life submarine of the same name invented by Robert Fulton in 1800. He had also seen the French submarine, the Plongeur, at an 1887 exposition. His imagination, however, whetted the appetite of underwater pioneers and gave inspiration that such devices could be appreciated and valued.

Space travel has also gotten a boost from various authors in the telling of their out-of-this world stories. George Melies’ “A Trip to the Moon” and Fritz Lang’s “Woman in the Moon” are two such examples that, while some aspects of their stories like the lunar surface were off base, others such as the launching of the spaceship from a cannon were closer to reality.

Today, some of you might be reading this on a tablet computer. Stanley Kubrick’s film “2001 – A Space Odyssey” not only accurately portrayed the hand-held computer we call a tablet but also the time period of its birth. The movie props even became part of the landmark court case when Samsung used the film against Apple’s assertion for their iPad design claim was original. The Star Trek franchise accurately predicted such things as mobile phones, 3-D printers, and the latest smart device, the smart watch.

Even the movie Short Circuit combined technology with mythology in telling an accurate depiction of militaries worldwide interest in robots. Today the robots are used in both defensive and destructive manners but also in life-saving maneuvers such as detonating bombs and even performing surgeries in hyperbaric chambers. Laser surgeries save lives every day and are the same of science fiction from a century ago.

The stories of our cultures have tremendous impact, not only on the current listeners but those who might read these tales in the future and those who become inspired by them. It is very easy to dismiss them as the ramblings of prehistoric men with no knowledge of their world or science. These mythologies speak of mankind’s dreams and aspirations.

No one person is a commodity and no one has the right to make them feel that way. Life is about much more that simply going through the motions each and every day. The mythologies of antiquity encouraged our ancestors to not only believe in the immortal beings of their imaginations but also to believe in themselves. It is a belief we should have discover, explore, and feed. There is much more to life than simply going through each hour in drudgery.

It is a beautiful world out there and it exists not just for the privileged or the wealthy but for us all. The basic premise of each mythology was to explain the material aspect of life while never forgetting the mystical quality of life itself. Find the magic in your life today – the magic of a sincere smile, the joy of a hug, the promise of a better tomorrow.

True to Self

True to Self

Pentecost 64

It has not been that long since the twentieth century poet e. e. cummings wrote: “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” It is theme often repeated in Greek and Roman mythologies. Disguised as one thing in an effort to woo someone, both mortal s and deities discovered what actress Judy Garland knew: “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.”

The Roman god Faunas doubted his appeal and so he crawled into bed with his vision of beauty, Omphale…or so he thought. Omphale was the mistress of Hercules and the two had retired for the evening in a cave. Faunas reached over to hug his beloved and instead discovered a very hairy chest. Apparently, Hercules and Omphale had worn each other’s bed clothes for the evening. Faunas crept away, ashamed and humiliated and became known for nudity.

The story of Pomona is another illustration of the virtue in being one’s self. Pomona was a nymph who became the goddess of the harvest. She was also the dream of Vertumnus, the god of the changing seasons. Uncertain of his appeal, Vertumnus adopted many different disguises to try to win the affections of Pomona, all to no avail. Finally he simply appeared as himself before Pomona who immediately fell in love with him.

Some deities were so sure of their power that they simply road roughshod over everyone to get what they wanted. The story of Flora is one such story. Flora was the Roman goddess of flowers and fertility, known by the Greeks as Chloris. Flora was originally a wood nymph, known for her personal beauty. The god of the west wind, Favonius (the Greek Zephyrus), spied Flora one day, fell madly in love, chased and then abducted her. The story had a happy ending, though, because Flora fell in love with her captor.

The Greek name of Flora, Chloris, has remained with us in botany, chloris being the name of a type of grass. As an herb, chloris is said to bring luck and also good health. Sometimes known as monkey grass or crab grass, the spiked grass emanates from a cluster at its base. It is also known as five-finger grass and species of it are found world-wide. In many temperate regions it is used as a ground cover, valued for its evergreen hue year round. It is not the lush carpet grass we see on the greens of golf courses but it its own right, chloris can provide ground cover and erosion control that the more “pretty” grasses cannot and it heartier than they are as well.

Whether masquerading to win the attentions of another or simply growing wherever, it is important to represent yourself for what and who you are. To do anything else means to be living a lie. Chloris is not clover nor is it a rose bush. In its own right and place, though, it has great value. For some deities, pretense was the path to misery. For a select few, it was successful but because of their actions but rather the charity and generosity of their attendees.

We must be true to who we are. To live otherwise is to live in misery. Ralph Ellison wrote in “Battle Royal”: “All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naïve. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: that I am nobody but myself.”

Each step we take need to be taken with confidence with ourselves. We should not attempt to live posing as what the world wants or by following trends. When we fail to live our beliefs, we give up any personal power we might lay claim to ever possessing. There is much to learn but there is value in celebrating the self.

Bump in the Night

Bump in the Night

Pentecost 54

We’ve all heard them. Those mysterious sounds that go “bump in the night” and frighten us. IN an anthology of poems, Walter de la Mare published an old Scottish saying: “”From ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties, good Lord deliver us.”

The poets of the past are the ones who have fed us the mythologies of our ancestors. Homer with his “Iliad” and “Odyssey”, Virgil with “The Aeneid” and Ovid with his “Metamorphoses” and “Fasti” all left a legacy of Greek and Roman deities which still delight us today and continue the immortality of these characters.

It should be noted, however, that what was once a deity has, in some instances, become something else. Today the phoenix is no longer a self-eating monster but a symbol of resurrection. The phoenix dined on the very things used to preserve the dead. It would nest high atop the mountains at the highest point of a tree and, in time, be consumed by the sun. Allegorical interpretation was that the phoenix illustrated the sin of gluttony.

Perhaps the phoenix should represent to us that which we like that often becomes an all-consuming love. One small ounce of wine or other alcohol seldom harms anyone. Try purchasing two ounces of wine – one for you and one for a companion. It simply is not sold that way. Once home with the bottle, it is easy to justify drinking it…and drinking more…and purchasing more… and the cycle of drinking has begun.

One elusive beast of antiquity was the prized one-horned quadruped, perhaps a distant relative of the rhinoceros or giraffe. This animal, long sought after by hunters throughout time, was described by Pliny the Roman naturalist in ancient texts as “a very ferocious beast, similar in the rest of its body to a horse, with the head of a deer, the feet of an elephant, the tail of a boar, a deep bellowing voice, and a single black horn, two cubits in length, standing out in the middle of its forehead.” Others believed that if an attempt to capture it ensued, the creature simply leapt from tall cliffs, using its horn to propel itself from rock to rock, much like a pole vaulter uses his/her pole to cross the high bar. It doesn’t really sound like the cute, sweet-faced unicorn of fairy tales, does it?

We all have fears and psychologists advise four basic ways in dealing with them. The first is to analyze your fears and mythology is a great way to do this. The next step is to control your fears. Story telling is a great tool in doing this as it allows us to put someone else in the main character’s role and gives us a vantage point from the outside. The third way to is change the way we think about the specific fear. Someone afraid of heights, for instance, might change their thinking from the perilous perch of an upper rock plateau to imagining it the palace of a lovely god or goddess. The last way to manage fear is to acknowledge it and give it a place in your life.

Mythology gives fear a place in our life and goes one step further by giving it a purpose. Some fears are beneficial. A fear of snakes means you probably will not try to kiss a rattler on the face and get bitten. Others are debilitating and need professional guidance to overcome.

It is important that with each day we live, we write the story of our own lives. Former US President Franklin D Roosevelt is famous for having said: “There only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” With one sentence he summarized the mythologies of most of the world. A more modern update to that quote might be: “The only thing we have to fear is ourselves.”

Living our beliefs takes courage. It means standing up for the unpopular at times. It means not being fashionable or realizing that different is not something to fear but to respect. Today I hope you face your fears instead of running from them. Use them as our ancestors used their myths and learn from those things that can bump in our minds. Follow the words of Plato in facing today and writing a great story of your life today: “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”

Why We Believe

Why We Believe

Pentecost 54

“Look now how mortals are blaming the gods, for they say that evils come from us, but in fact they themselves have woes beyond their share because of their own follies…All men have need of the gods.” This passage from Homer’s “Odyssey” might very well be both definition and reason for why we believe, why we tell stories, and why we listen.

Some like Sigmund Freud saw religion as pathological, referring to the original meaning of the word which meant to suffer. This school of thought saw religion as a social movement or force that would prove malignant, encouraging irrational beliefs, ritualistic behaviors, and perhaps, one that would lead to suffering and eventual death.

Given that description, then life is pathological. It has an eventual death and there is definitely suffering in the process of living. Yet, over eighty-five percent of mankind on this planet embraces happily some type of religious belief. Is it merely a huge exodus following an irrational concept or is there something more physical in our believing the mythologies of the world, many of which are the cornerstone for the world’s many religions?

Research has revealed that perhaps it is the hardwiring in our brains that makes us take these stories from their original oral tradition to becoming enduring beliefs. Our cognitive tendencies in wanting to establish order amid the chaos of living may be the by-product of our mind’s function. It is afforded mankind that ability to form social groups, to united with others who believe as we do.

“If we’re on the right track with this byproduct idea — and the findings are really getting strong — it’s hard to then build the case that religion is a pathology,” says psychologist Justin Barrett, PhD, director of the cognition, religion and theology project in the Centre for Anthropology and Mind at Oxford University. Rather than being harmful, it would seem that belief in certain mythologies has actually given mankind the ability to survive and thrive, to stay alive.

Countless years of research has revealed many different ideas on this subject, some of which ultimately are rejected. Those studies give credence to the idea that man seeks order from chaos, needs reason for the existence of things. Mankind developed mythologies which led to belief systems and religions because mankind needed answers and even though those answers might not have evidentiary proof that would hold up in a court of law, those answers have been believed since…well, forever.

Several years ago, I attended a series of seminars with a friend. Several weeks after the last seminar we sat discussing all seven. Although we had been attentive to all of them, we realized we could only really fully remember those with which we felt less favorable. Instead of remembering summations of the ones we liked, we simply remembered that we liked them. The ones that had left us disappointed or in disagreement, though, were vivid in our memory. We could almost recite them word for word. The others we knew we agreed with the speaker and that he/she believed as we did but we had no real memory of their words, just an overall feeling of agreement.

Certainly believing that some invisible deity exists is counterintuitive to rational thinking, right? Far more sensible to believe in the blade of grass in front of you than to think it was created by an invisible deity or deities. And yet, we would apparently rather believe in the invisible creator story, the earth made up of nooks and crannies from a clash between warring gods, topographical remnants of a powerful force. Did such irrational beliefs serve a purpose to mankind?

University of British Columbia researcher Dr. Joseph Henrich studied fifteen diverse societies and discovered that people who followed a world religion were fairer to strangers when involved in economic games than non-religious people.  In another study by Dr. Scott Atran and Dr. Ara Norenzayan, research revealed that people remember the counterintuitive stories more than the intuitive tales they had read. “Religion, in a sense, outsources social monitoring to a supernatural agent,” stated Norenzayan. “If you believe in a monitoring God, even if no one is watching you, you still have to be pro-social because God is watching you.”

Religion, it would appear, binds mankind into a moral community and such religion is based upon the mythologies of ancient cultures. After all, most of the world’s religions are based upon basic concepts that enable people to live together: do no harm, play fairly, be loyal to your group, respect authority and, the more personal admonition to live purely or in a healthy manner. Early religious practices such as diet restrictions and apparel requirements not only addressed these tenets, they allowed mankind to form social groups which in turn afforded protection.

Ancient man sat in a field, perhaps on the Serengeti, and heard the wind. Early humans developed stories about the deity that controlled the trees and flora with his or her breath. There are over fifty basic gods and goddesses of the wind; the Greeks alone have seventeen. Is it irrational to believe in such a force or did such beliefs lead early civilizations to be respectful of such air movements? Did they look around in order to worship their wind god/goddess and then see the approaching lion, thereby being rescued or was it merely coincidence?

It is true that religious beliefs which most likely gave ancient cultures the ability to survive have morphed into beliefs that have also led to wars and destruction.   “The problem is, the more you look inward toward your religious group and its claims of virtue, the less you look outward and the more distrustful you are of others,” explains Dr. Atran.

Some scientists point to Denmark as the model of the future. Denmark has a society living successfully not because of religion but due to an emphasis on a large welfare state, a national belief in hard work, and a powerful belief not in deities but in personal freedom and the right of one to be an individual. Anthropologists may be divided in the benefits of religion but cannot deny that even these types of societies will need the same moralities of the world’s primary religions that have led to mankind’s survival over the past generations. The same principle of sacrificing for the greater good will always be needed.

We believe because it keeps us living and because we live, we believe. As Sir Elton John composed: “From the day we arrive on the planet and blinking, step into the Sun; There’s more to be seen than can ever be seen More to do than can ever be done. Some say eat or be eaten; some say live and let live. But all are agreed as they join the stampede, you should never take more than you give. In the circle of life, it’s the wheel of fortune, it’s the leap of faith, it’s the band of hope till we find our place on the path unwinding in the circle, the circle of life. Some of us fall by the wayside and some of us soar to the stars and some of us sail through our troubles and some have to live with the scars. There’s far too much to take in here, more to find than can ever be found; but the Sun rolling high through the sapphire sky Keeps great and small on the endless round. In the circle of life it’s the wheel of fortune, it’s the leap of faith, it’s the band of hope till we find our place on the path unwinding in the circle, the circle of life.”