Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

1.13 religion explained

Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought is the title of a 2001 book of Pascal Boyer, a French-American anthropologist. Because of its actuality and its daring title it is a much discussed and translated book. Most of the reviews, however, are not very enthusiast, complaining of its dry and abstract philosophical and cognitive-psychological argumentation. Even more serious is the conclusion that the book does not really explain the phenomenon of religion. Boyer himself excuses this lack of satisfactory explanation with the statement that “religion is not a single entity resulting from a single cause.”[1]

But is he right? Couldn’t religion in essence be just that: a single entity resulting from a single cause? For the humanosopher, who explains consciousness as linguistic consciousness, the obvious mission here is to unravel the real evolutionary origin of religious thought.

Our ancestors, now armed not only with stones and sticks but also with fire[2], spread from the tropics to the temperate zones in Africa and Eurasia. It was a slow migration: about 30 miles per generation. Why so slow?

Groups that had become too small due to any catastrophe joined a more successful group. When after a catastrophe too many groups joinned,  such a successful group became too numerous. Then soon  tensions arose: people could not yet live harmonious in a too large group.  Then soon a little group of young women, children and men would decided to move to a new territory. Not too far away (maybe some ten days trip) because they needed each other for surviving. We may assume that such a region had already been known because adolescents had to make a long journey as part of their initiation in adult life – upon their safe return, they were able to recall for the remainder of their lives the far away regions and people they had encountered on their journey. Whatever, we fantasize a little here.

Sure is: the settlers of new territories were the first humans who gave the mountains, rivers, lakes, marshes, fruit trees and wild animals their names.
For humans, things exist to the extent we have a name for it.
For our ancestors, as linguistic creatures, those first name-giving settlers were the creators of their tribal territory.
People always had (and still have) the practice of defining a total group as one person (The American for all Americans, The Australian for all Australians) and in a similar way, their offspring spoke of The Big Ancestor.

We have already mentioned dancing / singing as a result of the performances to fill the night-time hours before bedtime around the campfire that kept the predators away. The performances had taken such an important place in their daily routine that they lived their days to it and that they made it beautiful – especially the women – with flowers and feathers. Feierabend.
Of course this is speculation. We can at most refer to the Yanomamö of Napoleon Chagnon, in whom, despite their permanent threat of war, this was still the daily practice evening after evening.

Reconstruction Bilzingsleben camp site of Early Humans, 370.000 years ago

We dare not to speculate exactly when and where this process began. The first hard evidence (in our opinion) of how these humans expressed the experience of their world in danced singing, is Bilzingsleben: an archaeological site in Germany, a H. heidelbergensis campsite from 370.000 years ago (Reinsdorf interglacial). This is the first known place with evidence of a special dance place between 3 huts[3].

The tribal “Big Ancestor” we are talking about here – who was not regarded as a specific person but rather as a reference to the mythical ancestral group – was not a man, nor a woman, nor some kind of animal: it was something all of this.

We need to emphasize here that this tribal Big Ancestor is in no way synonymous with the figure of God as worshipped in today’s main monotheist religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). The last patriarchal God has been constructed only a few thousand years ago.

Where our atheists claim that God did not create man but that man created God, we may refer to our cultural evolution at this moment of the first people who entered a new tribal area. The little group of young women, children and men who were the first to settle new territories, were the first ones to give the things in that territory their names. For their descendants, the ancestral settler group was personified in ‘epic concentration’, The Big Ancestor.
So God is in essence ourselves – it personified the first little settlers group – and even later thinkers and shamans have always remained aware of this. In the classic Greek-Roman culture of the first century BC, this still may have been the central and deepest mystery of the Mystery Cults and of the Gnosis movement: that God is ourselves. Mystery: in those times it was dangerous knowledge. So dangerous that none of the initiates ever dared to reveal the secret.

Let us take a closer look at Her/Him/It, in the form he still figures as a central force in the creation stories of present-day ‘primitive’ populations such as the Australian Aboriginals.

The creation story of such tribes still tells how in a long-ago Dreamtime[4], the Big Ancestor (never a man or a woman, it was even half-human half animal mythical being) entered the tribe land on a special place and began to journey all through the known world.
Everywhere on his journey She/He/It deposited mountains, lakes and trees and all the special features of the land.
She/He/It also left, in a special place, the little souls who could fly into the wombs of women who passed by that place, the same place to where the souls return after death.
The Big Ancestor could travel through the sky or under the ground.
Once finished with his creation effort, She/He/It departed from the land through a special hole in the ground[5].

Special creations (mountains, trees, animals etc.) were also important Figures in the Story, with special tasks or abilities.
This Story of the creation of their world was so important to them, that they even believed their world would come to an end when they no longer sung/danced their world. And that makes sense: it was a named world for them. And it still is for us – but we are familiar with the fact that the world goes on even when we are never dancing/singing it.

In the dawn of humanity there never was a tribe without a sung/danced Creation Story.
Over thousands of generations of singing/dancing the essence of our world and our community, this practice has become so-to-speak a part of our genome. It lives on within each of us as our religious feeling. We are born with the expectation of experiencing a sung/danced representation of the world and togetherness.
When a baby cries, it will be quiet or even begin to smile when mama sings/dances with the baby in her arms.
This is the base of the religious feeling that remains with us even when we are convinced secularists or atheists. For instance in beauty emotion. It is this ancestral practice of dancing-and-singing the world that makes us “incurably religious” as theologian Dorothee Sölle defined it[6], even though she herself did not see the link.

This instinctive reaction does not just apply to babies. Many grown-ups will feel an urge to dance when hearing dance music.
In a similar way, many people will experience deeply rooted feelings when hearing religious music such as the Matthäus Passion or In Paradisum.
And in fact, the chants by the public in football stadiums do also have the same effect. It tends to bring us in a sort of trance.
Singing (music) is the merger of our cortical ratio (human) and limbic use of voice (animal).
Singing (music) is a return to primitive stage of being human, when we could easily find ourselves in a trance.

In the book Kalahari Hunter / Gatherers by Lee and Devore (1976) we read that the !Kung San attach great value to the trance, but that in order to get into a trance, the women have to dance/sing.
Matthäus Passion and the chants in football stadiums have to do with the desire for trance. Desire to go crazy.

All these common, instinctive reactions to singing and music led me to presume that the sung/danced creation stories by our ancestors played an important role in the group cohesion, which is why this social song/dance mechanism is basically still working even in the nature of western people today.

The creation story as described above evolved over thousands of generations, along with the evolution of the prehistoric economy.
In the creation stories of a few present-day tribes (such as Australian Aborigines) we can still recognize its original form.

  1. “Religion Explained’ reminds me of “Consciousness Explained” by Daniel Dennett: this book didn’t explain consciousness either.
  2. this position seems seriously questioned in the recent PNAS article of Roebroeks and Villa (March 2011) “On the earliest evidence for habitual use of fire in Europe”. However, they emphasize that their research concerned (a) the European fire use and (b) the producing of fire: they didn’t question the use of fire by keeping smoldering charcoal obtained from a natural fire.
  3. Steven Mithen in his book Singing Neanderthals (2006) describes this same excavation, with the “demarcated space for performance (!) … to sing and dance, to tell stories through mime, to entertain and enthrall …” [‘mime’: Mithen has no idea of linguisticness, and even speculates that Neanderthals had not yet language!]
  4. an important concept of the Aboriginals, but one that is found with ‘primitive’ populations all over the world: it indicates the time of the beginning of being human, when the ancestors felt themselves still being animals, a part of the animal world, not yet linguistic creatures with their existential incertitude as ‘worrying apes’.
  5. In Australia of the 50’s a whole territory had to be emptied for a nuclear experiment, so emptied from Aboriginal tribes, who were transported with trucks to a new place (it was noticeable that the babies were so well-fed, despite the harshness of their residential area). A later researcher noted that a woman sang for her child, drawing in the sand the Creation route of the Great Ancestor, and it ended with a hole in the ground.
  6. Dorothee Sölle (1929 – 2003) was a German liberation theologian and writer who coined the term Christofascism.

19. Migration waves and genetic diversity

 

The first OoA-migration was around 2 millions of years ago, by H. ergaster groups. Researchers name this OoA-I, and the later one from around 100,000 years ago by the AMH groups is called OoA-II. Within the latter, we see two migration waves: OoA-IIa (between 115,000-74,000 years ago) and OoA-IIb (65,000 years ago, after the Toba bottleneck).

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The AMHs in East Africa developed from a more long and slender, ‘nilotic’[1] Middle-Stone-Age population type some 200,000 years ago. They first dispersed over the African continent,[2] replacing the Early Human populations, who disappeared. 130.000 years ago, a small group left the continent and began dispersing all over the world.

Map of early human migrations according to mitochondrial population genetics. Each character represents a different haplo group. All Out-of-Africa groups descend from the African L3M group.

OoA-IIa took place in a warm period when the Sahara barrier was green. So perhaps the first AMHs left Africa along the Nile. As mentioned above, AMH hand axes are found on the Arabian Peninsula dated 125.000 years ago. Paleos have found fossil AMH remains dated 120,000 years old in the Mount Carmel caves Skhul and Qafzeh (Israël). Their stone assemblages did not differ from those made by the Neanderthals who had survived the severe cold period after the Toba catastrophe in the same caves, which during that period were abandoned by the AMHs. The paleos see the latter as ‘archaic AMHs’, because they do not yet show the more modern life style of the Blombos populations in the Southern tip of Africa.

We can follow the migrations by looking at archaeological remains. We can also reconstruct them by looking at the dispersal of different types of musical traditions

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humans, because in the rest of the world the genetic diversity is much smaller. Tishkoff[4] also suggests that the group which migrated out of Africa came from northern East Africa. "The diversity of groups in Ethiopia and Somalia is intermediate between that of the rest of Africa and the rest of the world," according to Tishkoff: "perhaps this group was isolated from the rest of the African continent before they migrated into the Middle East and Europe." As said, this first OoA-group doesn’t show the life style of the southern AMHs of Blombos cave and other sites. So this archaic group may have been driven northwards along the Nile by the population pressure of more modern AMHs from the south. Because their first appearance outside Africa is on the Arabic Peninsula, near the Strait of Hormuz (Jeben Faya, 128,000 years ago) and they appear in the Levant 8000 years later, it is also possible that they left Africa by crossing the Strait of Bab en Mandab. Or should we suppose two emigration groups of archaic AMHs? Because their stone technology is a little different.

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Most of the ‘archaic AMHs’ (OoA-IIa) moved ‘beachcombing’ to the East. In this relatively warm period, lush vegetation on the Arabic Peninsula made it habitable for grazing animals and their human predators. Recently, African-looking hand axes have been found in Jebel Faya (UAE)[5] . From there, migration to India may have taken place, where we find them

Semang woman, descendant of OoAIIa-people

“spearing dinner and filleting meat” 76,000 years ago in Jwalapuram.[6] At the moment of the Toba catastrophe, most of them had already passed that area, beachcombing farther eastward. Their descendants populated Sundaland and eventually reached the Sahul continent (New Guinea, Australia, Tasmania). Today we still find descendants of these early AMHs in the jungle of Malaysia: the Semang (see photo). The Malaysians name them Orang Asli, and in the Philippines they are named Negritos.

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In their homeland Africa, the AMHs recovered soon after the Toba disaster. Since that time, they developed the modern life style we already mentioned: indicated by fish spears and other tools from bone, ivory and antler, shell beads, engravings on ochre lumps. And perhaps they used spoken language. About 65,000 years ago, their coastal population became large enough to start the OoA-IIb migration wave. This time, they crossed the red Sea at the Strait of Bab el Mandab. Presumably in several waves (see the second map below).

The OoAIIb-migration (post-‘Toba’)

By 45,000 years ago, or possibly earlier, they had settled in Indonesia, New Guinea and Australia.

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Today’s Australian Aboriginals are descended from the first humans to travel far from their African origins. (From: “Aboriginal genome analysis”, Nature. 477, 28 Sept. ’11)

The modern humans entered Europe, inhabited until then by Neanderthals only, around 40,000 years ago. The Neanderthals, who were Early Humans, now were confronted with a totally different kind of humans: noisy, numerous, armed with farther reaching spears and living from fish. People who didn’t react on your gestured communication. So as a Neanderthal, you could better avoid confrontations and retreat into an area without fish. By 35,000 years ago, the AMHs had populated most of the Old World and forced the Neanderthals into mountain strongholds in Croatia, the Iberian Peninsula, the Crimea and elsewhere. The Neanderthal groups became isolated from each other, suffered ever more from inbreeding and would become extinct 25,000 years ago.

Finally, around 15,000 years ago, humans crossed from Asia to North America and from there to South America. The white regions on the map is territory that was never been tread by humans before.


[1] Nilotes are often described as gracile in build, being slimmer and of greater stature than the average human, and having long limbs with very long distal segments (forearms, calves). This characteristic is thought to be a climatic adaptation to allow their bodies to shed heat more efficiently.

[2] "We found an enormous amount of diversity within and between the African populations, and we found much less diversity in non-African populations," Tishkoff told attendees today (Jan. 22) at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Anaheim. "Only a small subset of the diversity in Africa is found in Europe and the Middle East, and an even narrower set is found in American Indians." (Science Daily, Jan 25, 1999)

[3] Journal of World Prehistory March 2003 “Language, Symbolism and Music – An Alternative Multidisciplinary Perspective” from Francesco d’Errico et al.

[4] Penn State University

[5] by Hans Uerpmann of the University of Tübingen and his team, in 2010

[6] according to Petraglia and his colleagues

29. Origin of Islam

 

In recapitulation, in the Iron Age we see tribes, each cherishing their own ancestral Big Ancestor Figure, extending their own cultural sphere, either by war or by trade or a combination of both. Their need to reconcile different spheres implied the need for a shared Supergod Figure. John Bowker describes this trend in detail, in his God. A brief history (London, 2002): in the Nile Valley, in Asia, in India.

A similar development took place in Arabia, home of the Islam. This dry peninsula, situated conveniently between Western Europe and the Far East, had become prosperous by transit trade, and also itself produced the main ingredients for the incense used in the religious rituals of the Greco-Roman world. Its wilderness and dryness kept the peninsula out of the reach of the Persian and Roman armies, so the prosperity of the Arab tribes kept booming. In the end, however, the Romans built harbors for tall ships on the Egyptian Red Sea coast which enabled them to bypass Arabia and to trade with India and China in a more direct way, causing a dramatic decline in Arabia.

Impoverished Arab tribes moved north, only to be contained by both the Roman and the Persian empire in Arab buffer states on their borders, meant to limit Arab immigration[1]. For the Roman Byzantines the Ghassanids were the buffer state, and for the Persians the Gerrheans. In both cases, these buffer states were strong enough to supply the empire with soldiers; and both buffer states had already been influenced by Christian missionaries: the Ghassanids by ‘Monophysites’ and the Gerrheans by ‘Nestorians’. Both Christian denominations were hostile against each other. After a period of balance of power, Romans and Persians got in a deadly clinch, causing the collapse of the Persian empire which was subsequently taken over by the Arabs.

In this situation, with a grown but now impoverished and desperate population, the Islam was born. Several prophets/gang leaders gathered bands of young warriors to benefit from the weakness of the superpowers the Roman empire and the Persian empire, involved in a deadly struggle with each other. Mohammed was one of these prophets. He got support of three rich friends, who believed in his idea of one Arabian supergod, like the Jewish and Christian gods: they hoped that such a common ideology would create the unity that was needed to end the trade-hampering ghazwas (tribal raids). With their money, Mohammed armed a gang of young mujahedeen (emigrants/warriors, hoping on a chance to emigrate to the northern lands with ‘ever flowing waters’).

When the Shah tried to annex Gerrhea for more tax output, the Gerrhean king opened the sluice for mujahedeen gangs for help. Just when Mohammed arrived with his gang, the Shah had resigned of his plan. The Mohammed gang was not welcome: for the more civilized Gerrheans they were vile people with a western dialect and probably Monophysites!

The friends returned to Mecca, but they found the gate closed. The Meccan citizens kept wary for their lucrative Kaaba business.

Mohammed’s gang was beginning to expire, but luckily (?) arrived a request from Yathrib (later Medina): for help in a quarrel with a Jewish tribe. Mohammed succeeded in help, and more: he made Medina his base.

After several laborious years (and some narrow escapes) Mohammed and his friends became successful: when Mohammed died, half Arabia had been pacified by the new ideology.

Mohammed’s leadership was continued by his friends Abu Bakr, Omar and Uthman from the Quraisj-clan, not by his adopted son Ali who was from Mohammed’s Hashim-clan. Under Abu Bakr, the entire Arabian peninsula was Islamized. Under Omar a big part of Persia, the Levant and Egypt followed. Under Uthman followed the rest of the Persian empire and more parts of North Africa. The Islam ideology had turned out a great success story.

As a prophet, Mohammed had pretended that his ideas came from his God, Allah, transported to him by an angel. Like other prophets, he produced Jewish-Christian aphorisms to inspire his followers. In later days the remembered aphorisms together with sermons and preaches have been gathered in a ‘holy’ book, Koran.

This ‘holy’ book, however, mainly consists of fragments of sermons of later imams which still referred to Jewish-Christian theological origins. This sermons are hastily recorded by someone who incidental mastered the art of writing. His casual quotations became later part of the Holy Koran. When you read Soera 2 Al-Bakara, you meet a clumsy narrative, when you compare it with the narratives in the Bible. But when you realize that this are hastily recorded quotations of a sermon (comparative with the quotations in a college cahier), you meet a Jewish/Christian sermon

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abstract. For today’s Islamic imams the inaccessible texts of the Holy Koran make it easier to impose their own beliefs and conceptions to their audience.

692 Jerusalem Rock Dome inscription (mosaic)

The oldest inscription of the Islam, in the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, is a theological-political statement of the Omajjid Caliph Abd al-Malik meant to deny the claims of his monophysitic Byzantine opponent Heraclius. The inscription dates from 692 and reads: "Oh people of the Book, (…) the messiah Jesus son of Mary was only the messenger [muhammadu-n] of God (…) it is not on God to take a son …".

Theologically, in 692 the Arabs were still involved in some Christian doctrinal discussion, but at the same time they were already developing their own specific theological framework – including special prescriptions such as salaat (obligatory prayers) and zakaat (tax). *** Perhaps is ‘developing’ not the right word: salaat, more times a day praying in the direction of Mecca was already part of the Arabic religion in pre-Islamite times. In Mecca was the Kasbah, with the holy black stone, the center of devotion to the Moon god Hubal, symbolized with the crescent moon. This symbol was already used in the Sumerian religion for Sin (or Nanna), the Moon god, "father of the gods", "chief of the gods", "creator of all things", and the like. The "wisdom" personified by the moon-god is likewise an expression of the science of astronomy or the practice of astrology, in which the observation of the moon’s phases is an important factor. For many scientists this is an indication of relationship of the Arabian cultures and the Mesopotamian cultures, contrasting with the Egyptian and Hellenist cultures who used the Sun as their main symbol (later also adopted by Christianity). As to the Kasbah, the practice of 7 x running around the holy Moon stone also existed in pre-Islamite times, as well as congregate on Friday for prayers, and zakaat.

So the Islam is partially a Judaic-Christian, and a pre-Islamite religion.

In 737, the Arab conquest machine was stopped by the Francs at Poitiers. To prevent disintegration of the enormous Arab empire, a common Arab creed was needed more than ever. So from now on, the Abbasid Caliphs actively fostered the further development of Islam as a specifically Arab denomination. The Koran, the sira (biography of the prophet) and the hadith (the conduct of the prophet) got their definitive form and content. Also the fiqh (ethics) and the sharia (legislation) were formally written down.

As mentioned above, Mohammed’s leadership was continued by caliphs of the Quraisj-clan and not by his adopted nephew Ali from his own Hashim-clan. After three Quraisj-caliphs, the Hashim-clan was on turn, but Ali was murdered soon by Muawija, nephew of the Omajjad Uthman. With Muawija the Omajjads got the power, in a series of 14 caliphs, from 661 to 750. The murder on Ali and his son Hussain was also the beginning of the schism between the Sunnis and the Shiites. Shiitism is mainly living in Iran and a part of Iraq. The rest of the Muslim world is mostly Sunni.

At first sight, monotheistic religions seem rather stabile systems. Christianity endured in the Western states until the breakthrough of the free market and is still holding out in not free societies. The eventual breakthrough of the free market society in the Western states was made possible by the fact that in Europe the secular power always has been divided. The heads of state (emperors and kings) never succeeded in subjecting the local counts and dukes. To finance their wars they were forced to borrow money at the bankers of the cities, in return for liberties. Slowly the power shifted from the gentry to the bourgeoisie. The Church had to move along, at the expense of several schisms and separations like Protestantism and Anglicanism. All religious denominations kept their conservative character, and kept trying to slow down the inevitable innovation and progression.

The Islamite empire was progressive under the Abbasid dynasty until in 1258 the Mongols devastated Bagdad and killed the last Abbasid emperor. Around 1500 Portuguese and Dutch seafaring entrepreneurs got around the Islamite trade monopoly with the Far East, and this was the end of the Muslim golden age. The Islam was of no help. On the contrary, the Islamic patriarchs consequently prohibited all forms of innovation and progression. ***The Islam world submerged in despoty and ‘Middle Age’-darkness, became a monolith of social conservatism and remained so to this day.

The Western bourgeoisie sucked in all the innovations of the eastern trade during the Abbasid era, technological innovations such as paper making, gun powder, typography, wind- and watermills, scientific innovations such as algebra, medical and chemical science, and developed all these achievements in a laborious struggle with churches and landlords. After the French Revolution in 1789, the European bourgeoisie got a firm grip on the market and the industry. The break-through of the free market economy after the sixties of the twentieth century gave the death blow to monotheism. The free market economy is unstoppable in its turn. Fundamentalist sects and fractions of Judaic, Christian and Islamic spheres fight against its take-over, but the free market economy is as a warm spring wind, thawing the permafrost of old forms and thoughts, doing collapse all institutions build on it. No state or person exercises power over this economy, it penetrates each civilization via capillaries. Those in power can only try to hamper the process, not stop. ….


[1] The same limes politics as the Romans practiced on the German tribes from northern Europe.

31. Historical development of civilization

 

NB. In the following lines I handle a more limited definition of ‘civilization’: not as an equivalent of ‘culture’, but: the activity or mechanism of replacing somebody’s loyalty to his clan or tribe into loyalty to a state or land. So more in the classic meaning: civilized versus barbarian (tribal).

Monotheism, as discussed before in chapter 17, is a characteristic product of the Iron Age. An age of warfare. An age of intensifying trade and improving agricultural techniques. An age of slavery and other sorts of exploitation, and of luxury of the exploiting elites. An age also of tribal raider bands, robbing and burning villages and towns. In summary: an age frustrating the social, peaceful core of human nature.

Of course thinkers were pondering about restoring ancestral moral behavior: the human condition of paradisiacal times before overpopulation complicated human life, the times represented by ancient danced and sung creation stories about the Big Ancestor. The most renowned of these early thinkers was Zarathustra. Unlike later forms of monotheism, his belief in Ahura Mazda (Zoroastrianism) focused on morally responsible behavior and mitigating tribalism, and it had a strong civilizing effect on his believers. As we saw before, the early Jewish patriarchs adapted elements of this Zoroastrian monotheism to dress up their own power-establishing ideology.

In this chapter we will discuss the civilizing power of the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. For generation after generation, the individual adherents of such religions did believe in the goal and the plan, the perspective and the aim, the target and the object, the intention, the scope and the intent, the design and the meaning, of such a belief system. This belief held big states together, and provided rulers with an important tool to quench social unrest and prevent revolution. Belief can make individuals cooperative. Belief is socially important.

Belief is also personally important, as it can be the foundation of self-confidence. Tennis heroes such as Nadal and Federer need to believe in their own power to be motivated for success, and for football players the same applies. To be successful in an enterprise, one has to motivated for putting energy in it; for to be motivated one has to believe in the goal and the feasibility of the enterprise. Belief and trust are closely related feelings. Both are important for building and maintaining one’s self-image.

Belief in one monotheistic God often has a collectivistic character: an individual is nothing and God is all. The individual’s significance depends from his importance to God. The individual’s salvation depends on God’s mercy. Another aspect of monotheistic belief is that it is not innate: its dogmas and laws have to be taught. God belief is part of our human inheritance only in so far that during a million of years, our ancestors were singing and dancing their world as created by the Big Ancestor.

The collectivistic character of monotheism originated from and joined the tribal mentality. A clan member feels himself a part of his clan in the first place: his individual identity comes in the second place. For a western consumer, whose identity is primarily an individual matter, this is difficult to comprehend: he is a product of the Western tradition of individualism that started with the printing press, social mobility, education, humanism, Reformation, Enlightenment, industrial revolution and in the end Free Market. That tradition is absent in the background of Islamic monotheism, which originally had rather tribal roots in Mohammed’s Arabia. For a while (during the caliphate of Cordoba) Islamic civilization became the most advanced in the world, but after a decline of trade the Muslim power waned and Islamic civilization sunk into fundamentalist rigidity and backwardness. No printing press, no social mobility, no humanism, reformation or enlightenment, no development of individuality.

In the Middle Ages, nothing in western Europe was more political than religion. The church in every parish – nearly always the most imposing building – was as much a symbol of worldly control as a shrine to God. Where the western world took over 500 years to become more secular, it would be unreasonable to expect the Muslim world could manage the same feat in just a few decades.

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Back to the Late Iron Age. The newly introduced monotheistic and collectivistic God was grafted onto the stem of an innate, more generic god belief. Monotheism is not part of our natural inheritance, it is part of a culture. It is a recent patriarchal invention. The propensity to religiousness is innate, but the monotheistic God belief is not. This is a relevant notion, because today ever more Western people no longer feel a bond with monotheist God belief. What did cut the threads is the introduction of television in the sixties, which introduced new models of being human for identification. These new models, stemming from a consumer-oriented free market, were far more attractive than the old model of the churches. In a few generations the bond with monotheism was gone for ever more consumers. But the innate religiosity is much firmer rooted in our genes by over 100,000 years of linguality and animistic religion practice, singing and dancing some kind of creation story.

First, let us look at the civilizing character of Judaism. Unlike Zoroastrianism, the new Jewish God belief did not aim at mitigating tribal warfare and raiding: for the Judaic patriarchs, it primarily had a financial-economic purpose. As for Christianity: it was only the episcopal organization of this sect that made it attractive as state religion for Constantine the Great. It did not become a civilizing instrument until under the Carolingian kings. As to the Islam: it had such a civilizing role from its beginning. This was its founder Mohammed’s only purpose, and for creating of a Muslim empire the creed functioned perfectly.

It was this Muslim power and efficiency, that around 750 AD for the Frankish leader Charles Martel was a greater threat than the raiding of uncivilized Saxons. So most of his organizational and military talent was dedicated to keeping the Muslims behind the Pyrenees. It was his formidable political talent that stopped the first Islamic attempt to conquer Europe. Would it have been a disaster if Charles Martel had been a lesser genius and when Islam had become the ruling religion all over Europe? We intend to think that in that hypothetical case, the Islam might have never developed fundamentalism, and might have functioned as a moderated civilizing monotheism. However, it missed three crucial elements: episcopal and papal organization, monasteries and celibacy.

Charles Martel already used missionaries such as Boniface to control the Frisians, and he won the loyalty of several important bishops and abbots by donating lands and money for the foundation of abbeys such as Echternach. He unified the Franks under his banner and defeated the Saxons. But to him, the invading Muslims in Aquitania were the real threat: a powerful military force, quite different from the tribal warriors such as the Frisians and the Saxons. He knew he needed a full-time, trained, professional army. Until then troops were only available outside the sowing and harvesting seasons, but Charles needed them year-round, and he needed to pay them to compensate for the missed harvests. To obtain money, he seized church lands and property.

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With his well-trained infantry, Charles managed to defeat the Muslims at Tours-Poitiers in 732: one of history’s most consequential battles. The result was a Christian Europe: a system of fiefdoms loyal to local nobles and ultimately to the King (later emperor). Charles secured the support of the ecclesia by donating land and money for founding monasteries and churches, as he needed the ecclesiastical hierarchy for its administrative capacities. The pope from his side was highly dependent on Frankish armies for his independence from Langobardic and Byzantine power. The Byzantine emperor still considered himself to be the only legitimate Roman Emperor and thus ruler of all the provinces of the Roman Empire, whether recognized or not. So after the death of Charles Martel (741) the pope crowned his son Pippin, and decades later Pippin’s son Charles the Great, as Emperor of the “Holy Roman Empire”.

Copying monk in scriptorium

Besides the lacking ecclesiastical organization and monasteries, the Islamic monotheism lacked a third important element: celibacy. Without the care for a family and progeny, the Christian clergy could spend all their time and energy for ecclesiastical work. In the libraries of the monasteries, some monks could dedicate their entire life on hand-copying books and other activities related not just to religion, but also to arts, sciences and civilization in general. For example, many classical Roman texts known to us today would have been lost forever, if they had not been copied by monks in the Middle Ages. This applies to works of Tacitus, Livius, Plinius, and Archimedes: the cultural and scientific revolution that began in the Renaissance, was for a large part founded on pre-medieval works that had been preserved by copying monks.

Of course, other factors played a role as well in the surviving of a Christian culture in medieval Europe: such as the moderate climate, the variety of soil types and thus of agricultural products, the potential of large rivers such as the Loire and the Rhine to function as “natural highways” for transporting products, all in combination with the already mentioned “balance of power” between secular and religious authorities.

Charles Martel laid the foundation of the ‘Carolingian Renaissance’ by establishing monasteries etc. His grandson Charlemagne and his successor Louis the Pious invited scholars from all over the Christian world to their court in Aachen. Famous among them was Alcuin of York (735-804), who standardized a curriculum for use in the Carolingian schools, wrote textbooks, created word lists, established the trivium (grammar, rhetoric and dialectic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometric, astronomy and music). Also famous was John Scotus Eriugena, who succeeded Alcuin at the Palace School. This Irishman was one of the most original thinkers of the entire Middle Ages.

33. The role of information

 

Over the last two millennia, information monopolies have gradually dwindled away. In the Middle Ages, the church (in the person of bishops and monks) had an information monopoly in several ways: not just because the monastical libraries had a virtual monopoly of guarding and hand-copying books, but also because the language of both the church itself and its books was Latin, a language not understood by most people. In the 16th century, Gutenberg’s invention of movable-type printing made it possible to print books in large numbers and in popular language, meaning that information reached a much larger public. This helped to propagate both the Reformation and other cultural changes, effectually limiting the church’s information monopoly. Gradually, books became merchandise: already for the 16th century impressions of 200-300 copies are known. Initially most of these were Bibles, but this was soon followed by Latin classics such as Cato, Boethius, Aristotle; and almanacs, grammar books, liturgy books. After a while, the scope of subjects and languages became ever wider.

Broadsides (single-side printed sheets) had been in use since the first invention of printing for papal indulgences, royal proclamations and similar ends. Throughout western Europe broadsides became also popular as political pamphlets. The early16th century humanist movement and the leading minds of the Reformation period – Erasmus, Luther, Melanchton and Calvin – used tracts as an easy method to widely circulate their opinions. In France in 1523, the publication of pro-Reformation tracts caused the Sorbonne to petition the king to abolish the diabolical art of printing.

However, the influence of printed opinions increased over time. In 17th century France, pamphlets dealing with the amours of the king and his courtiers found a wide reading public. The presses of the Low Countries teemed with tracts against politicians and Jesuits, exciting extraordinary attention throughout Europe. In the 18th century, writers such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Diderot, D’Alembert and D’Holbach also produced pamphlets. In the 1780s, the printing of cheap leaflets etc. made it possible to mobilize larger numbers of people for the French Revolution. The scope and influence of printed information between ca. 1520-1800 grew in similar ways in other countries such as Britain and the German kingdoms.

The influence of printed texts (and the number of texts specifically targeting and informing the lower classes) grew alongside with the gradual increase of literacy. While around 1500 only 10% of the Western-European population was able to write their own name, around 1800 this had risen to over 50%, and around 1900 it would get close to 90%. That this rising literacy level in combination with the rising number of popular publications was a powerful agent of social awareness and social change, goes without saying. In the 19th century, cheap newspapers meant that actual news reporting reached the masses. Just like many websites today, cheap “penny” newspapers were in fact subsidized by advertisers who wanted to connect to a wide public. In the late 19th century, new photographic techniques meant (among other things) that for the first time ordinary people could get a realistic idea of the actual horrors of war.[1]

Almost from the beginning, a special aspect of communication has been propaganda: the aim to influence public opinion. The specific goal can be commercial (advertising a product or service) or political (promoting a party or an ideology). The latter, by parties, action groups and governments, is ‘propaganda’ in the usual sense.

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1933 German Volksempfanger

Especially in times of war, propaganda has always been an important weapon. The first victim then is the truth: in world war II German propaganda minister Goebbels knowingly told lies, being confident that for the mass a repeated lie becomes the truth. The nazi regime also was one of the first to systematically use radio and movies for propaganda: they distributed millions of cheap Volksempfänger, radios that could receive only the state’s channels. During the war, the Germans relayed propaganda radio programs (by “Lord Haw-Haw”) to the British population. As for movies, the 1942 movie Jud Süss was a story specifically intended to foster antisemitism; the early-1945 color movie Kolberg was based on an 18th-century story, and meant to foster a spirit of resistance against the approaching Russians.

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Most important of all, however, was the new development after the second world war: the arrival of television in all households in the 1950s (USA) and 1960s (Europe). We want to propose here that the advent of television in fact heralded the end of monotheism in Western societies. For centuries, churches had been able to monopolize the moral and existential self-conception of the masses; but within a few decades, television destroyed this religious monopoly by confronting huge parts of the population with a different kind of “mirror”. The root of this change was the changing self-image of people. Formerly, the message of the churches had defined the human profile: the image of a sinner with only one fundamental choice (to sin or repent), for the rest being subjected to the grace of God. Most people got this message once a week: during Mass. The advertisements and shows of the free market television on the other hand showed every day, in everyone’s free time, the profile of a free, happy, woman- and child-friendly consumer: a much more attractive image for identification.

Our self-image is formed by the way parents and other family members, and later schoolmates and teachers, see and treat us. But we also actively build our own self-image by identification with mother, father, teachers and other ‘idols’. The culture in which we are living also provides influential building stones and idols. Today TV with its commercials and soaps, and the internet with its music videos, networking sites etc. provide identification objects that for many peopleespecially young people – are equally strong as friends and schoolmates. In today’s culture, people are also stimulated to actively construct their self-image by expressing their own identity explicitly, for example on Facebook.

The ongoing expansion of the free market society has furthered (and still stimulates) two important social effects. As discussed in the previous chapter, the advent of television gave popular consumption, information distribution and thus free market economy a boost. Because of its liberating character, it heralded the end of collectivistic monotheism in Western societies, and stimulated the rise of a non-religious self-image based on each individual’s identity as consumer. In due course, this also furthered the rise of democracy. A third effect: where the free market began to function in a more optimal way, it allowed for more human happiness than ever in the last 5000 years.

Unfortunately, this new self-image is lacking something. We will get back to that gap in the next chapters.


[1] The American Civil War (1861-1865) photos by photographers such as Matthew Brady showed for the first time real pictures of wounded and dead soldiers on the battlefield. Such photos had a tremendous impact on public opinion: after this, the old ‘romanticized’ view of war became much harder to accept.

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Used abbreviations

GHs: gatherers/hunters (the phase from 2 million years ago to 10.000 years ago)

AGRs: agriculturers (the phase from 10.000 years ago till now)

NT(s)Neanderthal people

MSA(s): Middle Stone Age people (African NTs)

AMH(s): Anatomical Modern Humans (H sapiens people), like we are

(m)ya: (million) years ago

ANBOs: Ancestor Bonobos (ape-men), our earliest human ancestors

Paleos: all scientists that are important for our story.

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