Since the dawn of recorded history humans have recognized many sorts of deities. Most “gods” resembled humans in shape and form, and exhibited human-like emotions and motives. However, certain animals, the moon, the sun, the planets and the stars have also been deified by various cultures.
Some cultures gave their “gods” names and special powers. The ancient Greeks entertained themselves with many “gods” and gave them names, personalities, heroic exploits and epic sagas. The God of most Christians is an older man with long, flowing hair and beard, wearing a robe or obscured by brilliant light. He is usually known as God the Father, but also has many other names. Other cultures, such as ancient American Indian communities, simply recognized “Mother” or “Father,” without assigning specific characteristics or abilities.
In every ancient and modern culture there is reference to a “god” or “gods,” accompanied by the belief in some sort of “after-life.” The after-life has evolved over time; in ancient times the life after death was often regarded as literal and corporeal. The Egyptians and Chinese (and many other cultures) performed elaborate labors to provide for the next life. However, in modern times the after-life tends to be regarded as “spiritual” and involves human “souls” rather than bodies. (Although some Evangelical sects claim that spiritual humans will “resemble” their physical selves.)
In the ancient world, religion was an informal belief system specific to the culture, and there were as many different “gods” as there were cultures. In the modern age, gigantic religious organizations are trans-cultural, claiming world-wide influence, with tens of millions of adherents.
As humans spread over the earth, conquering each other, with civilizations rising and falling — the name of “god” was often invoked during the act of conquest. One’s “god” protected the cultural homeland, while, at the same time, heaped scorn and a foul fate on one’s enemies. It’s a common historical theme that “god” condones mass murder, rape and pillage — as long as it’s done against the “godless.” And any culture which doesn’t recognize your “god” is naturally “godless.”
The Spanish Conquistadors were always accompanied by high-ranking Catholic priests. They believed wholeheartedly in the Christian “god.” They regarded the Inca Indians as “savages,” or “godless,” because the Indians had no knowledge of Jesus Christ. It didn’t matter that the Inca had their own elaborate religious ceremonies and “gods.” In the minds of the Spanish and their priests, the Christian view applied to all humans through all time, even the Indians who had never heard such a story.
Therefore, since the Indians were savages and godless, it was alright to commit terrible atrocities against them and steal their wealth. In fact, God commanded it.
Here we are in 2015, the beginning of a new century — the leading edge of human endeavor. Where are we now in regards to religion and “god?”
When those hijackers drove those passenger planes into the World Trade Center, we know they must have screamed “God is good!” just before the jet slammed into the buildings. In the act of committing mass murder we hear that God is good.
This is absurd.
We hear that “god” has forbidden “sodomy” therefore homosexuality is a “sin” and denying gay people service or attention is now “legal.”
This is absurd.
Today, the Middle East is a roiling conundrum of ancient history, hatreds, cultures, “gods,” politics, oil, arms and nuclear warheads. In the name of “god” people are committing horrible actions and the fire is spreading.
The really huge irony in all this is that the essential point to most religions is as guidance to “right” or “just” behavior. On the other hand, it’s possible that one’s “god” demands eliminating heretics. It all has to do with how we label other people and how we define our “god.”
These squabbles over gods and religions have occurred throughout history, and were used mostly to justify conquering and stealing from other people. But now, in the twenty-first century, we have entered an era of high-tech weapons and mass destruction.