The mind is creative. We can take a pile of clay and make bowls, find junk and make art, and we can organize complex instruments into symphonies. We can make patterns out of chaos, see images in clouds, and religious images on various foods and walls.
This ability is a wonderful part of our species. It has allowed us to be artists of various kinds and it gives richness and meaning to our lives. But sometimes this skill can be problematic. It can be problematic because it can sometimes create the illusion that we have found something important or true in places where there was little of significance. In other cases it can make us see more than there is in things because our preconceived notions will not allow us to see something plain.
Theology. The study of god(s) right? I’m not so sure. I think that this is more likely finding patterns in human experience and making ideologies out of them. It seems like people reading scriptures and finding ways to reconcile contradictions into mysteries, nonsense into ultimate meaning, and atrocities into justice.
Because there are many things within the written history of humankind that are interesting, obscure, and opaque. There are periods of history unfamiliar to us when history, philosophy, and mythology were indistinguishable. But much of it is now looked at as true. And some of these true things come across to me as, well, disgusting.
Take, for example, this story from the book of Judges.
11:29 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon.
11:30 And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,
11:31 Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.
11:32 So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands.
11:33 And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.
11:34 And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.
11:35 And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.
11:36 And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon.
11:37 And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.
11:38 And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.
11:39 And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel,
11:40 That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.
What has happened here? It seems quite clear to me. But in a recent conversation with a Christian (a ‘real’ Christian, as he said), I found that what happened here is that Jephthah had offered an animal sacrifice because burnt offerings were always animals. He could not see what the story said because he had a preconceived notion that the God of the Bible and what he would do. If Jephthah killed his daughter and this was the literal truth of God’s word, then that god is a monster.
What about the Trinity? How did that come about? There is no concept of the Trinity in the New Testament. It is a concept derived from a need during the early church and became orthodoxy in the third century for many churches (but not all). If Jesus was God, then the message is important. If Jesus is just another prophet, then so what?
Mystery. That is the key. Where there are things not understood, the mind reels in the mystery. It looks for understanding, a seeking of sorts, and finds something in the seeking whether something is there or not. And the further the mystery travels from the sense we employ to the rest of our experience, the more important and meaningful it is. It is sort of like what happens with gambling; sometimes a few dollars come back in small snippets and it keeps the mind attended, even though most of the time it is draining you dry. Mystery is an addiction.
It is sort of like homeopathy; the less actual presence of the ingredient, the more potent it is. That is, the more mysterious, distant, and unknowable God is, the more it sticks to the mind and suffuses everything.
It will skew interpretations, create the presence of divinity in clouds of woo-woo emotional feelings, and it will create a strong sense of divinity in the stillness of calmness and tranquility. It is the smallest, simplest of assumptions that has the power to make the world look mystical, magical, and miraculous.
Yes, our creativity, sparked by the mystery of the divine, brings the divine into everything. It becomes the explanation of everything. God did it. Godidit. It becomes the placebo that supplies meaning and structure to our lives, when it actually does nothing at all.
In the history of human culture our understanding of nature has pushed the concept of gods back to the corners of the universe. We understand enough to know that the concept of miracle is not necessary, so God gets shuffled to the corners of morality, purpose, and gets attributed to the woo-woo feelings we get when we feel spiritual. And it works because we want it to work; because our powers of creativity allow us to see it working when it very clearly does not. But with the faith blinders on, it is difficult to see what is plain and simple.
Jephthah killed his virgin daughter. God is unnecessary to explain anything. Santa does not exist. Sorry, kids.