My Blog Week: August 1 to August 7
A Word on the Week
Religion, at its heart
What, no dessert?
I was surprised to learn this week, after a lifetime of Reader’s Digest, that my word power has been insufficiently enriched. I had always thought the expression was “just desserts”. It made sense, dessert being a reward…
But, as exemplified by the notion that there could be a duffle and a duffel both (one, I’ve read, is the coat, and the other is the bag, but not caring seems like a third option…), we should never let down our guard around the English language. A fresh needless specificity is bound to be lurking around the corner.
And since I want to be helpful when I can, let me inform anyone who can benefit, that it appears we should say “just deserts”.
Last week, I talked about society, and the products of communal living: an economy, a government, a culture, and a religion. I’ll add depth to this idea of religion, and explain why I put it in the upper tier, not as a sub-product of the culture.
Let’s consider some very early human societies, that existed outside archeological record; species: Homo erectus. Put yourself in the shoes (bare feet?) of a group in the act of gathering. You feel a strange rush of air, which is your only warning. By luck you are on a bluff, working a generous patch of berries. But dozens of your fellows have vanished, both under your eyes and a flow of slurry, a lahar. You and the other survivors stare, and question, edge away and disbelieve…call out your friends’ names… You return the next morning and call again. There are fewer of you now to share the labor. And you are terrified of this place. Nothing you know gives comfort, or dispels the fear.
And yet, every day, you have to eat.
You venture back, but anxiously. You are Homo erectus, but you’re not stupid. Your mind seeks an explanation. Some force greater than human strength has wrought this tragedy. It won’t serve you to say, “things happen”; you need order in your universe, or you can never feel safe. And you prefer not to just curl up and starve.
You and the other members of your tribe conceive of a deity. (While, in practical terms, these conceptions are likely as ancient as consciousness.) Troublesome personalities in your group can be mollified by gifts. Seeing your god in your own image, it comes to you to sacrifice something of value to him.
Once you have performed your ritual, you feel secure going about your business.
All our scientific knowledge hasn’t changed this basic equation. Consider the problems people have with vaccines; the problems they have in coping with deaths vaccine refusals have enabled—evidences of how we struggle with the unknown. We need structured behaviors to help us believe that we, each of us, is important, loved, the dead in a place where we can call them, and by some means be heard and answered.
Some vein of justice, we need to believe, runs through the workings of the universe.
And so the culture influences and changes the practices themselves. It provides group reinforcements that become about the group, so that religion is not a private prayer to a loving deity, but an exercise in group dynamics, the low-ranked kept in their places, the powerholders holding onto their power. Signifiers are created to separate one group from another; rivalries, the famous tribal loyalties, drive donations, and church members to sillier conduct…acts clearly performed to impress other humans.
On Monday, “The Bog”, part four, Laurel remembering old Christmases. Tuesday, a new Eight series, as I noticed, counting the Pawn Queen, there are eight chess personalities to riff on. Wednesday, a reissue from Rattus, “When You See God”. Thursday, nothing, because I’ve been preparing my novel Sequence of Events for a paperback release. Friday, Hammersmith, “A Novelty Act”, the errant professor’s talents exposed as a product of Vaudeville. Saturday, “The Sword Decides!”, and the end of Andreas’s hunting misadventure, his introduction into the convent where his wife is sheltering.
Images on my posts often have a link to related information (click first image), sometimes serious, sometimes whimsical, sometimes in answer to a direct reference. Since people can be leery about links, I include them here: what they are, what sites they point to.
My Blog Week: August 1 to August 7