Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Rambling - Why is the divine always so human?

I'm still reading American Jesus and finding it very interesting. One of the things that's struck me, as I'm sure it's meant to since it's a large part of the point of the book, is the different ways that people see Jesus. Every era seems to see him differently. At one point he's viewed as having gentler characteristics, love and patience in abundance. Kindness. Charity.

Then in the next era, when the culture has shifted, suddenly the focus is all on his martial attributes. Strength. Courage. Muscles...

Susanne did a couple of posts on the book over here, if you're interested. Anyway. Reading this book led me to thinking about other religious/historical/mythical personalities. It's telling, I think, how this pattern of the changing perception of these larger than life figures is the same across the board. Not that they go through the exact same permutations, but that with every shift in the priorities and drive of a specific culture the attributes of the religious figures change to match.

Which makes perfect sense if you view them as reflections of humanity. And that's what they are, whether or not they started out their existence as real human beings or not. Once a person hits the level of a religious figure to the degree where they are considered a prophet or a divine being, they have become mythological. Their lives are lifted up and examined as a path to emulate. And, because they were human, there are many facets to their personalities. So it's easy enough for each individual or culture to latch onto the aspects that they understand best or find most appealing and elevate them to the exclusion of any other characteristics. A very obvious problem with that is that it is not the entire picture of the person being focused on, leaving people with a very unbalanced personality to emulate.

Even when you take a figure that is not claimed to have been a human, say Odin, Loki, Isis or Bastet, their characteristics are many and varied and it's easy enough to focus on the ones that appeal to you to the near exclusion of others. And I don't think that there's anything necessarily *wrong* with that. It's human nature - we're not able to encompass *everything* at once and so we focus on the things that click with us. However I think it's important to keep an eye on the fact that what we find easiest to relate to is not the entirety of the being we're emulating or worshiping.

Anyway. My point, such as it is, is that all of our deities are rather human in the end. Because we're the ones doing the examining and the looking, our gods will reflect us to one degree or another. Even looking at the Christian god who is theoretically utterly inhuman (except for the part that is totally, perfectly human - the Incarnation, okay?), there are very human characteristics described into him. Part of that can be written as human limitation - we have only ourselves and the world around us to turn to for description and understanding and so of course the divine will be interpreted through that lens.

Does that mean that any of them are *actually* possessed of these human drives and characteristics? No. Probably not. It'd be terrible if the things controlling the continued existence of reality were just like us. Sometimes I wonder if the universe isn't more like a shark than a human. Meaning, it possesses a consciousness and a drive. It does what it does because that's what it does. Not out of affection or malice or belief. Just because that's what it does.


  1. Oh yay! I've been meaning to do a post sort of related to this, but I've been slacking off on it. Thanks for the reminder! I have many thoughts on this, so I'll save most of them for my own post.

    But yeah. Humans make human gods. Xenophanes said that if horses had gods their gods would be horses. :D I think there's something to that. (In fact, I also think animals probably do have gods and their gods probably do have characteristics more like their own!) Like you said, it's not a bad thing, unless we get too wrapped up in our own conceptions of the divine and start to think our conceptions are the only ones that matter.

    1. Exactly. :) We can't help but make gods that are like us because that's the life that we understand the best. I can't wait to see your post on this, you always have such wonderful thoughts.

  2. good thoughts! I tend to agree.

    1. Of course you do. Because I'm just that brilliant! :p

  3. Excellent post Amber, I tend to agree as well.


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