Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Religion 5.0

One thing you may not know about me is that deep down I'm quite "religious". As a small child I'd sneak into empty churches to talk to God. It just wasn't the same when services were on - all those dour adults, all that droning and standing up and down and kneeling. I also was never able to fully accommodate the idea of men in strange costumes and Fred Flinstonesque "grand pooh bah" hats. To this day I cannot see a bishop without feeling startled and a bit sheepish. No, as a child I much preferred it when it was just God and me alone together. And at the time I really thought I was talking with the big guy. I never got into the Sunday School stuff about lambs frolicking with lions in heaven but I did feel enormously motivated to discover meaning, acknowledge mystery, seek comfort. Other times I'd go there to look at the amazing windows and artefacts. And what I've always remembered is how palpably and genuinely humans can feel these things, even as children.

From what I can gather (and I'm showing my ignorant western bias here in not specifically drawing on religious traditions from places like China, India, South America, Africa, indig
enous Australia and in fact most of the world - my purpose here isn't to start a career as a religious scholar, my purpose is to express something on this traditional day of spirit in a way that marks my reverence and recognises something about the culture in which I have marinated) so... from what I can gather in my typically skewed human way, we're in Religion 4.0 at the moment.

The way I see it, Religion 1.0 was the original Gaia orientation of prehistory, where everything was Mother and crude statues of Venus of Willendorf were some of the first artforms that articulated a human appreciation of these mysteries.

Religion 2.0 came after the discovery of agriculture and the shift towards settlement. By then humans had worked out how babies were concieved and how plants were grown. So this led to a polytheistic view of the universe that finally gave males a place in the pantheon. The gods of Olympus would have been Religion 2.6 or so, the gods of Rome 2.7 - essentially what I'm clustering here is a period where man (meaning humans) explored the idea of a range of gods to accommodate an increasingly complex epistemology.

Religion 3.0 started about 4,000 years ago when somehow it transpired that there was only one god and it happened to be male. I include Judaism, Christianity and Islam in this family because even though they cover everything from "an eye for an eye" to "turn the other cheek", it still points (in my mind) to religious forms that have enough in common to be considered a group (and I'm not going to elaborate here 'cos the last thing I want is to get into an argument about religion or attract a whopping great fatwa).

Religion 4.0 in my opinion has been the post-war grab bag of the secular age where anything goes and we're seeing all sorts of DIY approaches to the sacred. This includes neo-pagans, the "recovery" movement, the cults of consumerism and celebrity idol worship, new agers, neo-conservatives and so on. And it's only now that I'm typing this that I'm realising what it is that I don't like about all the current manifestations of human religion - they're all "neo" something, like we're Moses' lost tribes stuck between one religion and the next, clinging to versions of what has gone before, lacking the faith and imagination to go forward and discover what might come. (And yes, I think the great god Science belongs in this cluster too after succumbing to the hubris that in some ways has encouraged the rising tide of anti-intellectualism that's lapping at our ankles as we speak...)

But what this all points to, in my opinion, is a seemingly universal religious instinct (or whatever you want to call it in your politically correct, culturally preferred versions) which appears to be shared across cultures and all times. And the reason I'm not using the word "spiritual" instead of "religious" in any part of this post is because the words don't matter to me as much as what they're attempting to say. Religions 1.0 to 4.0 have all been versions of the same thing - the human need to make sense of the universe, find meaning, overcome fear, learn how to live. Just like the "F" word (ie feminism), I refuse to give it up just because other people have given it a bad name.

So while I'm waiting for Religion 5.0 to emerge out of the cosmic soup, I'd like to take the opportunity today to observe a Religion 3.0 ritual that honours those who have died but are not forgotten. One version of this observance is called All Saints Day on November 1, followed by All Souls Day on November 2. Most of us don't know about it because death is the last taboo (which reminds me - the so called "wellness" movement is approaching level 4.0 religion status bigtime if you ask me...). But like it or not, death is the only certainty (taxes being optional for some, in the US at least...).

So on this suitably grey November day, with every beat of my fragile human heart, I celebrate the Mexican Day of the Dead and light a candle of love and rememberance for those I have lost as well as those I have never known. May all souls be remembered today.


Thanks to LeoL30, dharma and selva respectively (and respectfully) for the beautiful photos.

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