Friday, March 17, 2006

Paganism is Real

Today I went to a play that I needed to for a class; the name of the play is "Coyolxauhqui ReMembers," and it is about the disturbing struggles faced by Mexican immigrants to America and a re-interpretation of the Aztec goddess myth, whose name is Coyolxauhqui.

I noticed a few interesting things while I was watching this play. First, I realized that paganism is alive today. However, the play did not prove that to me, I had a real inclination that it was a real force in humanity today for a while now, but this play proved it. I remembered my Jewish archaeologist-in-training friend, Akiva, who goes on digs in northern Arizona and stays with Native Americans, who told me that some "real avodah zarah is going on there." "Avodah zarah" is loosely translated as "idol worship."

The lesson was also enforced that every society or peoples has gods and/or goddesses that are woven into the very fabric of their society and mentality, or should I say, that most societies are relatively inseparable from their conceptualization of the Divine, be it of many or of the One. Monotheists are the only people that have the One G-d woven in their society's fabric. Therefore, for polytheists, their gods and goddesses serve as historical indicators as well; they are not simply matters of theology, but are also matters of history and politics and the events that shape the experiences of those people. For example, if a people faces severe agricultural hardship, they might conceptualize that their nature god or goddess has become ill and is therefore unable to maintain a healthy harvest. Another type of reaction might be that they fear that they the god or goddess has not found them favorable in its eyes, which causes for the drought. The deities also come into play in regards to political and social situations, such as peace, war, victory, defeat, or oppression; a defeated and oppressed society might view thier god as having been subjugated by another of their gods. Interestingly enough, that society does not view that their god has been subjugated by the god of the victor society, for they do not know anything about the neighbors' gods, which leaves the only possibility that their own national gods are at war.

If we understand this to a certain depth, and we observe this by viewing how a society depicts its deities and how they speak about them, their deities sprout from literary extensions of themselves, metaphorical figures that serve as indicators of that specific society's viewpoints, or that of an individual, or a group of them; a god or a goddess is an external manifestation of a human character trait, given a name and a title, deemed a transcendent being. Furthermore, the people who believed in these deities found it necessary to depict them in literal, physical forms, since they represented such abstract idealizations of real things, and this is why polytheism and idol worship are so intimately related, and why true monotheism forbids imagery, for G-d cannot be fathomed in a finite manner. This is also why the stories of the deities also resemble soap operas, tragedies, or plays, and this concept has been passed down into the Greek culture, which terms them "divine comedies," "comedy" meaning "play."

This is also the reason why the deities of a society express human-like qualities, all of which those who believe in them readily admit, and it is why the gods and goddesses fall into some of the most disturbing human qualities; paranoia, depression, ecstasy, and elation, for example. The gods become external manifestations of deep-seated human qualities that every wise society understands is at the core of the human mentality and behavior. This is why we see manifestations of a "devil" in virtually all religious thought systems, as well as some original creator of nature (as limited to the region of residence). In most religious systems, the devil-character reeks havoc on humanity and is an enemy of the creator deity. In others, it is still an enemy of the creator deity, but was formed from the very deity itself; there is some degree of variation among the different philosophical belief systems. In many of them, it is a male. Furthermore, it is not portrayed as a divine being, it is understood to be a god, a "god of evil" in this case. Interestingly enough, there is not understood as being a "god" or "goddess of good," there is simply a creator deity; there is no duality between a god of good and a god of evil - there is nature and there is evil, and evil comes from nature. Nature and evil are represented as understood as being beings as well as manifestations of an internal human dynamic, and therefore we see the connection between the human being and nature in polytheistic systems, and therefore nature and evil are forever locked in a repeating battle, a cycle, which is represented by the image of the circle - a repeating artistic rendition found in the remains of polytheistic societies.

The cosmos are usually also portrayed as semi-divine beings, assistants to the creator god or goddess, and who counsel it. The stars, for example, serve as counsels for that particular head deity, which makes sense considering that virutally all polytheistic peoples looked to the stars for prophecy. The society and the individuals view the goddesses or the gods as being around since the beginning, meaning that the deities created humankind (or a specific race of humans), and not the vice-versa (that they created the gods) because nobody believes in a god or goddess that they themselves created if they concede that they created it.

Peoples can use their gods and goddess as psychological outlets for suffering, and have, which is the essential theme of the play that I saw today. The play basically plays along the feminist viewpoint of Latina women who find a real struggle both within their own societies and within their place in America. They re-interpret the Aztec myth of the moon goddess, whose name is "Coyolxauqui," who was believed to be a traitor after killing her mother, who was nature. According to the myth, the nature mother goddess felt that her daughter was having "out of this world premonitions" of some sort of impending doom, and therefore killed her mother in order to prevent it. However, her mother was unkillable, which the daughter did not know, and therefore she created an evil god (her son) in order to terrorize the world. In the end, the evil god slices Coyolxauhqi's throat in the same manner that she sliced her mothers, and the nature goddess mother, along with the stars, weep loudly. In their interpretation, the acting group re-depicted Coyolxauhqi as being misunderstood, which has feminist undertones aimed at weakening the inequalities that Mexican women face in their trials.

After the play, the women actors spoke about the meanings behind the play and their lives. One of the women, to my amazement, since it is a topic that I have written about, made the blatant relationship between polytheism and the human sacrifices that the Aztecs practiced, a theological tragedy. The word "Aztec" signifies a general area, not a specific peoples, and the specific people that we call "Aztecs" were actually from "Mexchic," which is the origin of the word "Mexico," which means that many Mexicans are of Aztec origin. They went on to speak about the power of the Aztec empire and how it imposed heavy taxes on its neighboring societies, and became a hated peoples, and tied this into America's role in the world. Furthermore, also to my sheer amazement since it is another topic that I wrote about, was the connection that one of the women made about the willingness of a person to be a human sacrifice and its similarity with suicide bombing. It is clear that in Islam, the world's third monotheistic religion, exists a very powerful polytheistic element - the exuberant desire to kill one's self. Remember that G-d abolished human sacrifices with Abraham, and here we see the descendants of Abraham's second son killing the descendants of the first (and now themselves) by that very method. The rest of the human sacrifices were usually warriors captured in war, an offering to the gods, which is one reason one of the women gave for the defeat of the Aztec empire; their conquerers had scores of living prisoners of war to fight for them.

Lastly, the word appearing in the title, "ReMembers," can also refer to the dismemberment of Mexican women victims while on their way to low-paying jobs in cities throughout Mexico. They were dismembered, so by remembering, they were able to re-member themselves, to put themselves back together. The clay depiction of the Aztec moon goddess shows her in a circle with her arms and legs cut off. It is horrible nightmare, the things that happened (and are happening) to these women, but it is an indication that polytheism is alive in peoples' minds. Monotheism has its work cut out for it yet.

At a point somewhere during the middle of the play, I realized that I was witnessing a polytheistic ceremony of sorts taking place, and I had the strong desire to leave. Thousands of years ago, not even, I might have had the pleasure to see a living human being set ablaze in the service of one of these non-existent gods or goddess. Regardless that I empathize with the plight of the women, I see no real or necessary connection between this plight and the belief in these deities. However, I understand that, even though G-d is the only true G-d, that societies and people have to come to Him on their own, because we have numerous historical examples of what happens when people force their views on to others, even if they are true. People have to adopt G-d, that's the only way it will work. In the end, there is no difference between the Aztec moon goddess, Coyolxauhqi, the Canaanite moon goddess, Asherah, or her Greek counterpart, Astarte; how could a peoples believe a god or a goddess to be real when a different society believes in a similar yet different god or goddess of the same type? Can they not see that their concepts of those deities are almost entirely subjective? Does it not make sense that there is an objective Deity, G-d, the "G-d of the Hebrews?"
Redemption is a building that humanity is trying to build. If we listen to the word, “redemption,” we see how the effort in building and bringing redemption lies with us. When you redeem yourself in someone’s eyes, you have done it, not the other person; the other person can only be credited with accepting your redemption. In this analogy, we, humanity, are the person attempting redemption, and G-d is the redeemer, the One who accepts our redemption, our effort, and considers it worthy.

Back to the building analogy, any solid building needs solid parts. It is unlikely that we will find a perfect piece to put in the building; every piece has some sort of flaw. On a very small scale, a piece of wood with a crack in it will not harm the integrity of the building. However, when we begin to construct larger parts of the building, we see very quickly that if each piece of the building has a crack or some type of flaw in it, the integrity of the building is deteriorated exponentially quickly. If a piece of wood has a crack in it, if the cement is too watery, or if one of the pieces is flawed, the integrity of the building will be severely cut short, and the building will likely fall down. In this analogy, we are the pieces in the building; the wood, the cement, or whatever piece is used to build it. Therefore, we need to be solid pieces; we need to work on our flaws so that we will be solid. If we are wood, we need to fill in our cracks, if we are cement; we need to have the right amount of water or solution. We do this because we care about the building.

However, we, the pieces, also have a vested personal interest in having a solid composition; we derive spirituality and well-being from the fact of being composed properly. However, we do not exist alone, and we would not want to, which makes it clear that the real purpose beyond our structural integrity is our place in the design of the building – our relationship to the other pieces and also to the larger structure. Using the building example on small scale, even a table needs to be made of healthy parts, but the smaller the structure, the more room there is for the pieces to have flaws; a table can have a bad leg and it might still stand straight (depending on where the fissure is located). On the other hand, if a table has only four legs, if one leg is flawed, then one-fourth of the structure is damaged (excluding the top of the table), but in comparison to the whole house, the leg might be an irrelevant fraction. Even if we consider a table with four flawed legs, depending on the type of flaw, the table can still stand. However, if the table is moved, then it will collapse, which is why even a table needs to have four strongly composed legs. In other words, our flaws would be perfectly acceptable if we had no relationships with other people or the world around us; nothing would move us and we would not collapse, we would be able to stand up despite our flaw because we were not moving. But since we have relationships with other people, and these relationships move us, we must try to be solid so that we do not fall at the slightest vibration.

We care about the building because it is our project, and we also care about the building because we will be living in it. Furthermore, we have been instructed to erect this building by an Architect who created a contract with us.

It just so happens that the building’s Architect has created living pieces and it also just so happens that He has given the pieces a blueprint for themselves to use in order to attain premium functionality. He has charged them with the job of creating a building, He has spelled out to them what the building will look like, and He has given the blueprint by which to build it, and it just so happens that the way to erect the building is the way to solidify the self; each piece is a structural parallel of the entire building. In other words, each piece has an obligation to the building, per the instruction of the Architect, and the way to fulfill its obligation to the building (and to the Architect) is by following the instructions and thereby solidifying its own structure. It is as idealistic as it is simple. It is as complicated as each person’s free will to do as he or she chooses.

But some people think that, since a self’s perfection is impossible, that the entire project should be abandoned. A building with a majority of its parts flawed will have a hard time standing, but a building whose pieces are in constant state of improvement, refinement, and strengthening will be, in effect, be in a state of improving, refining, and strengthening itself to a similar degree. That is why when we say of the world, “It is a good place,” or “it is a bad place,” we understand that the world is not a conscious entity, rather, we are really saying that we are making it a good or a bad place; the “world” means “us.”

Those who think that the project should be abandoned believe so due to their inability to cope with a world that needs to be improved, and which stems from their inability to cope with an Architect who would charge them with what seems to them as a dauntingly over-complicated and burdensome task. Therefore, they simply strike up a new contract with the Architect, a contract which places all of the responsibility on Him and none on them. We must ask if the Architect has agreed to the terms of this contract and whether or not He has signed it with His Name, which is something that the new contractors have assumed to be answered in the positive.

The new contractors believe that every piece in the building is beyond reproach to such an extreme degree that there is no purpose in attempting to improve their own structural integrity. Therefore, they ignore the stipulations laid down by the Architect when He charged humanity with the erection of the building, rejecting that such a building exists, or needs to exist, or can possibly exist, and rather believe that when they perish, that they will find themselves in a different building altogether, one that does not exist in three dimensions but rather only in Heaven. They are free from the burden of this task, but little do they know that the Architect still demands from them work, and therefore they contribute greatly to the overall deterioration of the building. Their standards have changed, but those of the Architect have not.

They also believe that there was one perfect piece that existed in the layout of the building, a piece uniquely and specifically designed by the Architect Himself, a piece with absolutely no flaws. This piece would need to be destroyed in order to make up for the imperfection of the other pieces, which would, once and for all, make irrelevant any flaw that they had, regardless of the fact that even after its obliteration, they still retained their flaws. The Designer Himself is required to smash the piece to bits in order to repeal the set of instructions that He Himself gave to the builders; in a “moment of mercy,” He annihilates the special piece that He created and reneges on the entire contract that He charged the builders with in the first place. We must then consider His ultimate authority irrelevant when we understand that He could have changed His mind without having to obliterate a piece of wood. We almost must consider that even through His omniscience that He did not know that the set of instructions He gave would be difficult, and if we are to abide by this view, we are left with no choice but to view Him as a crazed and confused lunatic who learns by trial and error. This is how the new contractors depict the Architect. Anyone who signs this false contract will be, in effect, contributing to the gradual deterioration of the building, having believed that suddenly, the building is no longer of any importance.

The new contractors, in the analogy, are Christians. The most ironic thing about their belief system, and it should be an expected irony, is that even though they claim not to believe in the commandments, they still have a deep understanding that applying the commandments to life somehow enriches life. This has led Christians to believe that G-d gave the commandments simply as an act of grace, mercy, and love, which they view to be the three pillars upon which the entirety of the world stands, and nothing else. However, G-d explains Himself in the Torah that He did not give them as simply an act of grace, mercy, and love (which they are), but as a set of commandments, which means that He requires His believers to perform them – they are obligated. He so cares about His world, His creations, and His commandments, that there is punishment for those who reject them. Christians want their cake and to eat it too, they want their “fun commandments” at the same time as wanting perpetual sinlessness; little do they realize that one can only be sinless by keeping the commandments.

Furthermore, the Christian understanding of sin offerings if flawed. In the Christian view, G-d Himself brought Jesus to be sacrificed; no responsibility can be given to the Jews, the Romans, humanity, or anybody else. True, in Christianity’s view, G-d realized the necessity of the sacrifice due to the sinful state of humanity, and therefore it can be said that we are to blame, but however, we are not to blame for Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden; they sinned and were punished, and the children (us) are not punished for the sins of the parents (Adam and Eve).

In the Torah, the one who sinned brought the sin offering, G-d did not. In other words, the individual was responsible for his own atonement, G-d, no matter how graceful He is, did not atone for His creations; this would turn them into mindless zombies completely under His control, completely smothered without any free will. A child that is never punished by the parent never reaches maturity. In Christianity, G-d destroyed humanity’s free will by imposing on them a sin sacrifice that they did not volunteer to bring; He actually forced Himself on humanity, which is anathema to everything that G-d reveals about Himself in the Torah.

The last time someone brought a human to be sacrificed was Abraham bringing his son Isaac. People used to bring other humans as offerings to their gods and goddesses, and not all of the offerings were sin offerings either, although some were. When G-d told Abraham not to sacrifice Isaac, he abolished human offerings and at the same time revealed that He was the only G-d. Thousands of years later, supposedly G-d Himself brings a Jew, a human being, as a sin offering for the sin of man; G-d becomes what He told His believers not to be! Cannot one see the polytheism sprouting in Christianity?

Jesus was beat, cut, thrown around, etc. on his way to his death (many of us have seen the movie). By what means exactly did G-d determine how much physical abuse Jesus was to receive before his atonement for the whole of humanity was complete? How many gashes did he need to receive? How many punches and kicks? How much physical abuse was necessary to remove all of the sin of man from the entire world? Since Christianity believes that humanity is so firmly rooted in sin, they mean to say that being beaten and tortured for one little hour was enough to atone for all of mankind’s sin for all of time, both past, present, and future? Jesus would have to have been beaten until his bones turned into ash in order to atone for all of the sins of mankind for all of time. If G-d can do all, why did He not simply require that Jesus could have been punched in the face once, or received one cut, or better yet, and kinder and more graceful, one slap on the wrist? If G-d can do the impossible and manifest Himself into physical form, then surely He can atone for the sins of all humanity for all time by having someone slap Jesus on the wrist and telling him to get lost. Actually, G-d could have just wished for sin to disappear and it would have happened.

Furthermore, it is senseless to say that G-d ended the Law by using the Law itself, i.e., He showed humanity that sin sacrifices were useless by sacrificing Jesus for sin! When G-d told Abraham that human sacrifices were to end, He did not show him this by sacrificing a human! If G-d ended sacrifices, then why did He sacrifice Jesus?! In reality, there is no good answer to this question. Rather, the Christian usage of G-d bringing Jesus as a sacrifice to end sacrifice is no more than a patronizing and haughty expression of Christianity's triumph over Judaism, but it is enigmatic and doesn't make sense.

This is a moot point, and it is precisely the problem we run into when people violate a commandment that tells them not to portray the divine in physical forms; they fall subject to human subjectivity and begin to create fanciful and imaginative accounts of visible deities and the lives that they lived (and the way that they died). This makes Jesus an idol and Christianity idolatry, even if Christians believe in G-d. The Egyptians also believed that G-d (“the G-d of the Hebrews) existed, and it is hard to imagine that any intelligent Christian has a hard time fathoming this, especially after reading the “Old Testament” and how often the Jews fell into idolatry, which they justified in similar ways that the Jewish followers of Jesus did. If we are to understand the sin of the former, then we are to understand the sin of the latter, and we are to condemn them both equally.