Between Stockholm Syndrome and Lima Syndrome
Part 9: An Eskimo Hunter and the Local Missionary Priest
For what each man wishes, he also believes to be true.
Let's review the ages of several religions. As of 2015, the Church of Scientology is 62 years old, Mormonism is less than 200 years old, Protestantism is about 500 years old, Islam is around 1,400 years old, Catholicism is almost 2,000 years old, Taoism is around 2,300 years old, while Buddhism and Confucianism are about 2,500 years old. Judaism is estimated to be 4,000 years old. While scholars and historians agree that Hinduism is now the oldest organized religion, its estimated age is unknown as it was not established by a single founder armed with a single holy book at a single point in time. As "non-prophet organizations", ancient religions do have a more organic, more collective, less individualistic nature, yet a more bottom-up structure.
In the grand scheme of things, religion can even be considered as a modern phenomenon. Even the oldest known and practiced religions (Hinduism, Judaism) are still younger than writing (more than 5,000 years old) and agriculture (more than 10,000 years old), much less oral language. Scholars are still arguing about how old oral language is. American linguist, philosopher and cognitive scientist Noam Chomsky, puts an estimate of 100,000 years. The takeaway: humanity survived, even flourished, during pre-religion era as evidenced with the inventions of (at least) writing and agriculture.
In fact, without religion, the end was never near—even for our ancestors with their hand-to-mouth lifestyle in the Neolithic and Mesolithic eras. With religion, it's a different story. The end is always near, as evidenced by the Watchtower Society's innumerable "second coming" doomsday prophecies of 1878 (then repeatedly revised to 1881, 1914, 1918, 1925, and 1975), the July 1999 Nostradamus' disaster-centric prediction, the 1997 Heaven’s Gate doomsday scenario, the December 21, 2012 Mayan apocalypse, and God-knows-what-is-next. (Hello, here we are, in 2015.) It's as if religion was created to instill a sense of fear in people—the more, the better. Author Annie Dillard once relayed a story about an Eskimo hunter who asked the local missionary priest, "If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?" "No," said the priest, "not if you did not know." "Then why," asked the Eskimo, "did you tell me?"
The reason, my dear Eskimo friend, is financial gain. William Blackstone warned in Jesus is coming (1878), that "the word was to become Armageddon." The end is near, due to "the lawless trio of communism, socialism and nihilism" are "preparing the way for Antichrist." Until Blackstone died in 1935, however, Jesus had not come and the world was still revolving, the sky still blue. No worry; over a million copies of Blackstone's book had been printed in 48 languages, making it "one of the most influential religious books of the 20th century." It has never been about Jesus or Armageddon or the End; it has always been about how to exploit fear for financial gain. As observed by Stendhal (1783–1842): "All religions are founded on the fear of the many and the cleverness of the few."
One thing is certain, however: oral language predates religion because it is impossible to proselytize and construct a narrative (e.g. Hell, the Garden of Eden, the Babel Tower, the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments) just by grunting—that's why chimpanzees do not have a religion. (Thank God.) Another takeaway: God didn't create man in his own image. Instead, man created gods in their own images. That's why the Old Testament god got angry and cranky. The New Testament god is more forgiving. The Greek gods and goddesses were jealous, gluttonous, alcoholics and loved orgies. The Aztec gods were obsessed with the points of the compass and weather systems—more on this later.
In Breaking the Spell (2006), professor of philosophy Daniel Dennett estimates that two or three religions come into existence every day, and their typical lifespan is less than a decade. Easy come, easy go. "There is no way of knowing how many distinct religions have flourished for a while during the last ten or fifty or a hundred thousand years, but it might even be millions, of which all traces are now lost forever." In Religion: An Anthropological View (1966), Anthropologist Anthony Wallace put a lower number and estimated that since the dawn of humankind, Planet Earth has hosted nearly 100,000 religions. It goes without saying, each claiming a monopoly of the truth and each refuting the others.
Whether the number is a million or 100,000, a religion is just that: a religion. It's not The Religion. To put matters in perspective, let's use the Aztec religion as an illustration. Who are we to judge them, and let's not be ethnocentric, but the Aztecs believed in sacrificing thousands of innocent men, women and babies merely to appease Huitzilopochtli (god of the south), Tezcatlipoca (god of the north), Huehueteotl (fire god), Tlaloc (god of the rain), and Xipe Totec (god of the east and water). For the sake of appeasing those gods, the Aztecs believed, they ought to kill innocent human beings, even babies, every now and then.
As it turned out, even those baby-hungry gods were impotent and failed miserably to save the Aztecs. With the help of the Aztecs’ native rivals, Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes attacked their capital, Tenochtitlan, on August 13, 1521, effectively ending the Aztec civilization (including their religion). Indeed, like us, the Aztecs fully believed in what they believed, but in the end nothing mattered. Their gods were helpless, their culture collapsed. Had they not sacrificed their men, would their army been stronger to resist Cortes—who knows? Their unbelievable belief were far from unique, however. Ancient Hinduism is another example. In A Survey on Hinduism (1994), Klaus Klostermaier states that there was disagreement over whether the higher Lord is Siva (Lord of Destroyer or Judge) or Vishnu (Lord of Preserver or Protector), and many have been killed for their belief in this matter. In fact, the Lingapurana promises Siva's heaven to one who kills or "tears out the tongue" of someone who reviles Siva.
[To be continued.]
Johannes Tan, Indonesian Translator & Conference Interpreter