The sociological theory of religion, as I found it in an article on the vocabulary of the sacred in Indo-European cultures, states that a culture’s understanding of divinity is a manifestation of the social bond. As such, its invention (in the Latin sense of ‘a finding’) provides a basis for authentication, establishing a moral framework for that society, and a system of interaction: proper behavior — and here I am carrying the theory through my own understanding).
In early Irish society, this authenticating purpose is exemplified by the very common statement “I swear by the gods / by that by which my people swear that …”. Moreover, in all Indo-European cultures the common system of understanding divinity saw a threefold division.
First, there is the sacred (Lat. sacer). This is taboo or off limits due to its divine nature. This is Zeus’ true form incinerating the curious lover, the gessa broken, the forbidden love or fruit et al. In this understanding of divinity, the divine is so far removed from human experience that it is actively dangerous for a human to involve him or herself with the divine.
Second, there is the holy (Lat. augustus). This is divinity bursting through all levels of being and infusing it with power and unity. This is healing energy, the divine hero, the holy wizard and priest-king. This is how we get the word ‘holy’ in English, which itself is derived from the same word that gave us ‘whole’. ‘Holiness’ is literally divine ‘Wholeness’. This was also the understanding of divinity that led to the veneration of Cæsares as gods.
Third and last, sanctity (Lat. sanctus) is the human placed into proper relationship with the divine through sacrifice, ritual or simply right behavior. This is why saints are called ‘saints’, because they have achieved ‘(w)holiness’ through reaching a proper relationship with divinity.
The great strength of the sociological theory is that it allows for all forms of understanding divinity. The IE threefold understanding of divinity fulfills this theory as well as Shinto, the religion of the ancient Egyptians or Judaism. The sociological theory then allows a common ground to compare each of these religions, not in order to interrogate their promulgation of a single inarguable truth, but the extant to which they agree with an individual’s core beliefs. It then becomes an enormously useful tool for discerning to which faith one belongs.
You will recall, if you care to, that my first entry in this questing log stated that I did not believe that one could choose one’s belief; that we all have a core system of beliefs that we find (leg. invent, see above) over the course of our lives. I believe, quite firmly, that our natures — who we are in the sense of the divine within us — are infinitely diverse but share in locally discrete, commonalities. Put more simply but in the language of faith, we all belong to a God, Goddess, set of Gods or other system of divinities even as our bodies conform to the individual manifestation of our inherited genes. Some of us are truly Christian, truly Jewish, truly Shintoist or whatever, but our means of discerning these is severely compromised by the social paradigms to which we adhere — precisely because our true faith is expressed by the clear paradigms that accord with the terms of that faith’s divinities. Raised from childhood outside of our proper paradigms — our proper faith — we live a half-life of constant self-checking, self-doubting and self-searching until we find the true paradigms of our proper faith, our true gods, and suddenly blossom as if emerging from a chrysalis into a being far greater than ever we could have imagined. For some, like the Hebrew people and Christians, there is only one God, but even Jehovah admitted the existence of other Gods — He simply required the 12 tribes of Israel to exclusively honor Him — and the bible is packed with other spiritual entities.
To answer the obvious question first, do I think that, by admitting the Hebrew God and yet allowing that there are others that truly do not follow that path, many are and possibly I am damned? Well, in a way. ‘Damned’ simply means lost. ‘Condemned’ means thrown aside, excluded, and in the Judæo-Christian sense means exclusion from God’s presence (popularly understood now as a place of torment). What if the great creative font of all that is and may be simply created appropriate places for all people? Valhalla would seem like hell to someone who didn’t by nature drink, love sex with anyone and everything, or get a rush by beating someone else’s skull in with a sharpened crowbar. Nirvana, a state of blissful nothingness, fills me with dread and a desire to imbibe large quantities of single-malt, while an eternity of experiencing all different forms of life in creation sounds marvelous.
Anselm’s ontological proof for the existence of God stated that God is that than which no thing greater can be conceived. In other words, think of the best kind of God you can imagine. Now think of one version of that God which does not exist, and another which does. By definition, God must exist because, if He didn’t, you would not be able to conceive of Him (remember, there is nothing better than God, so any idea of God that is less than the best you can think of must be false).
I take this one step further by using this definition to find the truest nature of the highest divinity. Which is better: a jealous God who only creates people as glorified mirrors and breaks them if they don’t reflect what He wants, or one which creates all manner of divinities and allows them to hold “courts” of their own? The adherents to a particular faith are then these ‘courtiers’. Just looking at the nature of the world, it is clear that the God of creation LOVES diversity (look at the dinosaurs!) in every possible way. He loves exorbitant shows of variation and myriad, manifold, even eternal complexity. Why should the spirit-world be any different?
After all, the only true moderation comes from moderating one’s moderation and going to excess when least expected.
I can hear you panting with exhaustion reading this, so I will leave off for now and continue at a later date.