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You can't have a religion without a system of writing to express it

15 November 2012, 12:42
One thing society and individuals (atheists and religious folk alike) will tell you, is that they are not afraid of dying.  In fact, this is our most common and universal fear, one we first confront as children and then work hard to sublimate and repress.  There's good reason to repress it, because to live with the conscious knowledge that all we are, all that we come to be (from nothing to having a name, to having an excruciating yearning for more life) must be lost.  If you think death is not terrifying consider that:

1. Everyone dies, no one escapes.
2. Death lasts forever.
One of the ways to immunise ourselves against this terror, is to convince ourselves that death is only temporary, that there is life after death, that there is a God, that we should live meaningful lives, be heroes, leave a legacy etc.  None of that really changes the fact that death is inevitable, and permanent.

While there are plenty of arguments against the existence of God, one that I have never seen, as far as I can recall, is this one.  If God (let's say the Christian God) was there all along, and informed his chosen people of how he made the world, then surely the moment mankind was able to express himself in art, and language and writing, this art and writing ought to have expressed the One Truth from the get go.  In other words, to ought to be in our earliest efforts to express ourselves, in cave paintings, sculptures, murals etc.  What I am also saying, is that if Christianity for example were true, then the moment a language appeared to express it, the first expression ought to have been Christian, and perhaps all other false beliefs then evolved (devolved) from there as bad imitations and counterfeits of the single original truth.  Makes sense, doesn't it?  If the creator has imparted how he created the world to the newly created man, then that created fellow ought to start getting busy immediately drawing and scribbling and telling this one of a kind divinely inspired , divinely related scoop - all of it, straight from God.

Naturally, Christians don't bother to study the etymology of words (even though the Bible itself claims that God is the Word and the Word is God).  Why is this important?  Well, you can't have a religion without a language and a system of writing to express it in. This sentence alone ought to give every believer pause, and I'd recommend reading it again a few times.
Thus, the writing itself forms a document of its own, in terms of its relationships with empires and beliefs, and absolute truths will probably permeate all these systems - inviolate - from the beginning of time, ahem, creation, which ought to be the same thing.  Languages, like tribes, have lifetimes, and like the weather, these systems interact with our systems, sometimes modifying them or being modified in return, sometimes disappearing, sometimes standing the test of time.  But a unique way to look at a religion, and scriptures, are from the writing technologies that evolved to tell them.  Where did they come from?

As it turns out, a proto-Canaanite group called the Phoenicians, the precursors to the Jews/Hebrews, invented the first alphabet, which had 22 letters, all consonants.  It should not come as a surprise that this writing also read right to left.  And this style, is related to other writing systems that erupted around the same time (and their associated belief systems) both of which persist today. It should bear noting that Christians come from a tribal conflagration (with languages that include Greek, Latin and the Germanic languages) that reads left to right, despite the writing that formed its foundation being a completely alien source just as the Egyptian alphabet was comparatively alien to the Hebrews who inherited (and cherry picked) the parts that worked for them.

Even so, the setup of these alphabets and writing systems was groundbreaking; it all went into high gear around 10 000 years ago, the same time humans figured out agriculture (and especially harvesting the seeds from grass/crops), and it's possible this technology (writing) basically provided a critical technology for man not to merely survive, but to thrive. The momentum of this information capture continues unabated today.  But consider the earth shattering transition 10 000 years ago: for the first time information could be stored beyond oral traditions and stories, across time and space via texts.

But while the Phoenician alphabet was an innovation, it was simply invented out of thin air. There are many pictographic alphabets, simpler and clumsier than the Phoenician alphabet, but far older, and it is these writing systems and languages from which the Phoenician alphabet (and the language) evolved.  Of course, one of the major precursors to the Phoenician alphabet was Egyptian hieroglyphics.  And naturally, exactly as you would expect, the religious beliefs of the Egyptians provide all the ingredients for the belief system (and language, and writings) that evolved either directly or alongside.  These include monotheism (and polytheism - One God but also a three-in-one God), the idea of a Sun God (God's son, the light etc), an alter-ego trickster God...  We ought to know all of this intuitively, because in the same way that Christianity evolved out of another faith, Judaism, Judaism evolved out of a composite of Egyptian motifs.

In line with the title of this writing, what we share today with the Egyptians, and the earliest men (even the cave painters) is one simple but absolute terror.  The fear of death.  How one deals with this fear is that one becomes to hope and wish that the inevitable can be avoided.  Hopes become beliefs, animals become gods, events become signs, and life becomes more meaningful than it is.  In other words, an element of fantasy, unreality, or madness creeps in.  But at the base of it, all of this is a lie.  And it becomes the lie that individuals tell themselves, reinforced by society, and it then feeds back to the individual.  Why do so many share the same beliefs?  Because those beliefs are in our common interest.  None want to die, all would like an immunity certificate.  Religion offers that.

But of course if our belief is a fragmented, disconnected, faith-beats-all scheme, something convenient to our motives and purposes, then we also have no coherent system, no history, no story, no schematic for how all things fit together and make's simply a thumb suck argument each time for how something came to be/or anything we don't understand including all things mysterious (it was created, God put it there, it's a miracle). 

What Christians also deny, is that as soon as one can allow oneself to walk down the road of belief without evidence, then we can all make claims that we speak for God (even and especially when we really just speak for ourselves), or that some events are God inspired.  And this is exactly what happens.  Elsje Neethling - Ryk Neethling's sister - has recently claimed that God has spoken directly to her, even calling her by name.  I wonder, does she have a recording or any witnesses?  There's absolutely no doubt that upon closer examination, her encounter with God will be ascribed to "a warm feeling" or "a sense of knowing." 
At the same time, ordinary Christians feel that they can rely on God to provide them with jobs, a spouse and a practical place to park their car.  If they run out of petrol, don't worry, God will keep their car going.  If the world is polluted and ruined, don't worry, God made it, he'll set it right.  If we make really poor decisions, fall pregnant unexpectedly, steal, murder - God will still support us and love us.  If we don't want to agree with science, the overwhelming evidence for evolution, we don't have fact these days there's always enough information to make up a story customised to whatever one wants to believe.

Of course history, and the actual unravelling of events, are not so easily customised, and offer us a predictable, all-too-human but nevertheless riveting account of who we really are.  Are we connected to all things, did we come from nature, or did we SHAZAM appear out of the ether, and laugh at the chimpanzees swinging in the trees around us - crying: "Oh we are nothing like you.  We are not animals.  You are."  But what if we are?

Of course in all these things, denial and terror evoke the need for a higher authority than simply ourselves.  It is humbling, isn't it, to eat the things that sustain us, but then to see what happens to all food when our bodies are done with it.  We are born, after all, in a space between urine and blood.  Yes, we can believe we have been conjured out of dust, or masterfully designed from a rib, or breathed into by a divine wind.  But the real test seems to me, not what is easy to believe, but what is harder.  I mean, in terms of our own vanity.  It is, after all, easy to explain everything as the waving of a magic wand.  I mean, in terms of the personal inner being, can we face who we really are, and where we come from? Because, someone once said, conscience makes cowards of us all. 

For further reading, especially on how Christianity evolved from the Egyptian religion: "the major tenets of Christian belief--the One God, the Trinity, the hierarchy of heaven, life after death, and the virgin birth--are all Egyptian in origin." go here:
Here's some fascinating insight including a sample of the Phoenician alphabet, which has distinctive Egyptian traits:

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