Sic et Non

Uncertainty, perplexity, ambivalence. I'm pretty sure this is where it's at.

Religion as Poetry

There must have been a time when human beings sang songs and only believed in the omnipotence of the images that haunted their dreams and populated their stories, leaping into the world of appearances as things-in-themselves.
There must have been a time when God was dead and his children didn’t know.
There must have been a time when suffering was taken for granted and there were no words for happiness, atonement, grace.

Then, someone said, “let there be surplus” and there was surplus. And the world became too complicated to be ruled by stories and songs and things-in-themselves, and it was clear that accounting and logistics would have to be invented. “Cui bono?”, naturally followed.  And the people looked around them and saw that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong and someone said, “yes, but the race is to the swiftest and the battle to the strongest” and so the superlative came to being. And from there it was a very small step to the Superlative Being.

One might imagine that by that time the songs would have ceased and the stories wound up, but Cui Bono wasn’t such an imbecile and decided to use some of the surplus to hire those with the sweetest voices and those with the wildest dreams to be Guardians of the Peace (this was before Babel and nobody knew what that last word meant, but it didn’t matter). Thus, Poetry was pirated by Religion. Nobody lived happily ever after, but quite a few people at least had peace of mind, as that new mental state came to be called which was free of the turmoil of perplexity and haunting dreams and, well, death-in-itself.

Now, poets will procure inspiration wherever they may find it, and so deities proliferated. But in a certain corner of the earth, a little obscure corner where surplus could hardly be created and resources were scarce, it appeared that pooling would be a better idea than diversifying, and that pooling they tentatively called Yahweh. Later, a generic name was adopted, the Lord, which was not patented and so came to be used as a blanket designation for all sorts of beings that secured the surplus and oversaw its distribution. Poems were of course composed for the Lord, and stories and songs, some of them quite lengthy.  But in all of them the same figures paraded, the same shadows from those haunted dreams, dressed up in the new clothes of faith and devotion.

Humans must have sang songs since the beginning of time. They will continue to do so when religion has found its proper place in the Annals of World Literature.


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2 thoughts on “Religion as Poetry

  1. Very interesting. You seem to be saying that the natural state of humankind – evident in the earliest forms of society – is atheistic: the song was everything, and nothing was thought to be beyond it. Was it really so? I think of the Baka pygmies, for whom song was and is a means of communing with the spirit world – the spirits of the forest, who are understood to command respect. Are the Baka an exception?

    A nice video here:

    And was there ever a culture that put no special value on happiness?

  2. Thank you, my sole interlocutor, for your comment.
    I didn’t mean to say anything about the natural state of humankind. I don’t think that the earliest forms of society were atheistic, in our sense of the word. I’m pretty sure they were not religious, in our sense of the word, either. All I’m saying is that Religion is -has always been, I think- a form of Poetry. The video, btw, was very interesting: I think it portrays very vividly what I meant to say.

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