"Darwin’s Dog, or the Evolution of Religion," by Winston Davis

Over on Quaker Universalist Conversations, Winston Davis has posted an exploration of recent theories about how human religions came into being as part of the development of language.

Here is an excerpt:

Long before scientists discovered that whales can sing, the church, in the canticle “Benedicite, omnia opera Domini,” urged the great behemoths of the deep to lift their voices in praise of the Creator.

    O ye whales…bless ye the Lord: praise him, and magnify him forever.

Underwater photograph of humpback whales in Hawaii. ©Tsuneo Nakamura.

The idea of whales praising the Lord is charming, but, I’m afraid, a bit fishy. As far as I can see, whales are not very religious. They may sing and communicate with each other, but they don’t sing hymns. The reason for this is that they can’t really talk. This means they can’t ruminate about the gods, miracles or salvation.

The only animals capable of doing so are those that can “fabulate” (tell stories) about powerful, invisible beings who (they think) can help or harm them. Here whales fall short. They can no more fabulate than they can lie or tell the truth. On the other hand, we humans are absolutely “polymorphously perverse” when it comes to storytelling. We tell all sorts of stories, stories that are true and untrue, uplifting and destructive, innocent and perverse.

Join us for more of Friend Winston's exploration.

Blessings,

Mike

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There's a theory that the pronounciation of "Ea" was something like "yah".

David Nelson Seaman said:

Thank you for the wonderful link to Winston's work, Mike.    The Old Testament demands on other  God's in the levant submitting to YAHWEH, through the analogy of the whale in this case , seems like a mythical reference linked to the worhshipers of Dagon and Ea, whose  image was that of a human-fish with powers representing fertility and the Goddess.    The patriarchal God YAHWEH, being jealous and murderous of any God other than Himself, demanded even of fish- and their association with fertility cults- obedience and loyalty.     That praise to him must be sung by whales seems a  example of how the integration of pre-Judaic images and forms were  incorporated into the sacred texts of Judism as a way to eradicate the worship of other God forms that displeased YAHWEH.     The symbol of the "Fish" survived  Old Testament eradication efforts and is still found in Christian symbolism, although its origins are long forgotten.

  

 

Interesting bit of reconstruction, David.  I've done a lot of reading in the literature of biblical criticism in the decades since I left seminary in 1973, as well as in anthropology and comparative religion.  These pre-Judaic connections, just like the analogous importing of so-called pagan elements into Christianity, always offer us a larger picture.

In my personal case, it doesn't deter me from living a faith and practice with roots in the "friend of Jesus" character of my childhood religion. 

Rather, it adds complex, contradictory, paradoxical nuances to "sacred story." I see scriptures and liturgies and doctrines and myths as human beings' attempts to describe their experiences of interaction with the Reality which is larger than our comprehension.

Unfortunately, people in every religion, especially those in power in any religion, then do the perverse human thing of claiming that these story-telling tools are rules written in stone.

They are not. They are poetry.

Blessings, Mike



David Nelson Seaman said:

The Old Testament demands on other God's in the levant submitting to YAHWEH, through the analogy of the whale in this case, seems like a mythical reference linked to the worhshipers of Dagon and Ea... That praise to him must be sung by whales seems a  example of how the integration of pre-Judaic images and forms were  incorporated into the sacred texts of Judism as a way to eradicate the worship of other God forms that displeased YAHWEH.   The symbol of the "Fish" survived  Old Testament eradication efforts and is still found in Christian symbolism, although its origins are long forgotten.

  

 

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