Writer’s Note: This is a social criticism and commentary on religion, meant to stir thought and insight into a different way of seeing the world. My wish is not to offend anyone’s beliefs, only to open minds to new realms of understanding and to what just might be possible. I do not claim to be right, or to know the truth. Quite simply, I wish only for the reader to absorb this essay with an open mind, willing to challenge all they have ever known and learned.
By Manuel Valenzuela
Into the Mind and Ego
02/24/05 "Information Clearing House" -- The human brain, like the human body, is a fragile wonderment of evolution, formed with the arrival of life on Earth, layered through the ceaseless continuation of mutation, growing and adapting over the course of Earth history, and combining the innermost reaches of primitive beginnings with those middle layers of our mammalian past and the newer manifestations of our more modern primate present. Over millennia it has grown to its present size, granting us intelligence unsurpassed, dominion over the planet and the power of constant thought. Its power is unmatched, for this most important of human muscles serves as the epicenter of human function and of civilization itself. It is the catalyst that has enabled humanity to thrive and adapt first in a natural environment brutal and difficult and later in our new ecosystem, the city.
Yet inside its magnificence as an instrument of human ingenuity also lies a mind that remains primitive in thought and understanding, unable to extricate from its pillars an ego dominated by reptilian instinct, mammalian fear and human insecurity. Today’s brain, while seemingly unsurpassed in its power of thought, while labeled the highest instrument of power yet achieved by a living organism, nonetheless remains the product of human evolution, from our days hanging on tree branches in the jungles of Africa to our hunter/gatherer Diaspora across the regions of Earth to the arrival of modern homo sapiens, a few hundred thousand years ago.
The modern human brain has not changed for roughly 200,000 years, remaining the same in size and capacity as those of our first ancestors of long lost yesteryears. Evolution, after all, works patiently, molding its clay over long epochs of time, not in short spurts of millennia. In our lifetimes, and in those of our ancestors and descendants, evolution of our minds, bodies and of Earth itself cannot be seen, for our short lifespans make it impossible to grasp the complexity of time and the longevity of change. To the human mind time is hard to conceptualize, epochs are unfathomable to understand and evolution is difficult to grasp, given we live a few decades short of a century, nothing less than an infinitesimal hiccup in the long history of Earth.
Thus, the mind of man, whether present and modern or of hunter/gatherer, migrating groups spreading to all corners of the globe in the greatest human Diaspora ever, has remained the same, unchanged and vulnerable to our animal behaviors and emotions, still primitive and fragile to our fears. Granted that we share 99 percent of the same genes as chimpanzees, our closest animal cousins, and are only capable of using eight percent of our brain’s capacity, the human brain remains shackled in time, a product of minute and slow mutations, a manifestation of our short yet tumultuous existence and an instrument that has advanced civilization even as civilization has yet to advance our mental primitiveness.
In our mind lies the as always fragile human ego, that demon running rampant inside us, dominating our animal behaviors and instincts, never allowing us to overcome the fear and insecurity of being human. With intelligence has come the ability to think and reason, forever asking ourselves questions as to our origins and our place in the environments we inhabit. We see humankind around us, forming societies, surviving in harsh environments, dominating the planet, yet the ego, and our ability to think, places a heavy burden on the human condition that makes us seek answers to many profound and vexing questions. The ego surfaces inside us, making humans think beyond the realm of understanding. With thought comes this manifestation, as we are very curious animals, needing answers to questions in order to settle down minds running rampant with the human ego. Primitive minds given the ability to reason are thus confronted with the demons of trying to answer, in the only way a primitive mind knows how, questions that human curiosity, fear, insecurity and denial conjure up. This is our burden, and one of our greatest demons.
In the Beginning
In the beginning, when humankind first thought of its place in the known world, living in environments virgin, bountiful and pristine, setting foot in a paradise never to be seen again, journeying far and wide both for survival and a home, in time splitting up again and again, branching out in diversity and to different destinies, a loneliness of existence began setting in. A fear of the unknown, of traversing lands alien and uncomfortable, of confronting threats both human and natural, was spawned from inside a primitive brain not understanding of how Earth and its many complexities worked.
Without the power of the collective brain or the accumulated knowledge gathered over many centuries, without a grasp both of science and the learned understanding of the many laws of nature, lacking sophisticated enlightenment and the ever-important growing awareness of self, our ancestors saw a world foreboding in character and frightful in existence. They saw an environment full of obstacles and dangers. They felt alone in the world as their thinking minds wondered on their origins and reason for living. Slowly but surely human curiosity blended with imaginations, forming an ego that helped explain, in primitive ways, an existence that encompassed early man.
Afraid of loneliness and fearful of the world around them, early humans developed beliefs that would better control the ever-insecure human thought process. In order to understand what was then unknown early man developed entities, known as gods, and stories, myths and fables that explained, in very primitive ways, the world they inhabited. The fear of primitive thought was controlled by stories of how man had been created, helping to restore the human ego’s questions on origin and reason for existence. Gods were created, based on the imagination and observation of nature, to help explain the unexplained and the paradigms of fear the natural world conveyed.
By introducing the concept of gods, early humans were able to find meaning in their world. They were at once able to differentiate themselves from animals and the natural world surrounding them. Questions that arose were answered easily enough through stories and myths created out of human ingenuity and imagination, and soon nature itself became a series of gods, as did anything not understood that needed explaining, such as the sun, moon, rain, wind, water, fire, the seasons, soil, harvest and the animal world. The concept of being alone in the world was erased as stories of creation and of metaphysical entities made man the foundation of existence, placing us at the throne of Earth and helping, in many ways, to squash the incessant fears early man had of the world it inhabited. Thus, questions were answered, the ego was satisfied, and the idea of religion was born.
The world enveloping early man was mesmerizing, an unfathomable amalgam of perplexing complexity and balance, and in time, as we began dominating the natural world, as our confidence and powers grew, as our dominion over all things living increased, religion became the dominant force affecting our lives and futures. As primitive as early religion was, though some say modern ones still are, it retained the idea that humanity was one with nature. With a wide variety of gods, each representing one or several realms of the natural world, humans were made to respect the world around them. In those days, humankind was still part of nature, and so had to live according to its balances and its rules.
Another reason for the introduction of religion into human societies was the reality of death, and of the profound refusal of the human mind to accept a finality to life. In the human condition exists the foundation seeking ever-lasting life, of not wanting to contemplate that after one’s last breath finality to life sets in. Our ego refuses to postulate such a thought, for the human mind insists on a continuance to life through a journey through the metaphysical where it is believed we will continue existing, though outside the body. We cannot accept that no afterlife exists, for this would mean that after living the human insistence of life ceases to exist, making us vanish from all existence.
Based on fear of death, belief in life after living on Earth, or of reincarnation, resurrection or rebirth, assures the fragile and insecure human mind that there is nothing to fear once one’s present life on Earth ceases to exist. It is this thought process that has for hundreds of thousands of years led to rituals of death and of burial. Death has been and continues to be seen as a continuation, not an end. In this clever way, the human ego grants us the illusion that life has meaning and purpose, for if we die a new life awaits in the afterlife. In denial of emptiness after death, religion makes the insecure human mind conceptualize death. It is in these beliefs that the human mind is assured that death is not to be feared for the continuance of one’s life will exist into perpetuity.
In our refusal to accept an end to life religion has thus survived, for religious dogma, in all regions of the planet, in all societies, guarantees life after death in some way, shape or form. Religion has for millennia gripped the fear humanity has of never again existing after death and has created elaborate stories and fables assuring us of that will be well, that in the afterlife we can trust. Thus the continuance of one’s life, even after knowing what happens to flesh and blood after death, becomes an elaborate exploitation of human fear of death, thereby assuring us that if we follow such beliefs and religious thought, our place beyond the rotting carcass, the feeding maggots and putrid smell of death is a foregone conclusion.
Religious belief grew out of our feeble ability to grasp the enormity that is the universe, Earth, time and space. It grew out of our ever-curious minds, of our wanting to know our origin and our purpose. It grew out of our ego’s insistence that we are different, and by consequence superior, to our mammal cousins and all other creatures existing on the planet. In order to solve questions we could not answer in the reality of life we created religious belief; in order to persuade our fragile and primitive egos of our glorious creation as rulers of Earth dogma was established; in order to placate our fears of the unknown and mysterious gods and myths were formed. In religion humanity found a salvation to the ever-thinking brain, to the need of finding answers where non existed, of satisfying curiosity and fears.
Early man came to understand that it thought, therefore it existed; it outsmarted, therefore it was superior; it understood, therefore it feared. The ego from where all religion sprung forth assured early man that it was beyond animal, that it was profoundly different, a manifestation of the gods. In religion it found satisfaction that there was purpose in life, that the gods looked down on weak egos from the unreachable and mysterious skies above. Religious belief in deities invisible and elusive assured our early ancestors that they were not alone in the vastness of a world they understood little about. When the natural world provided manifestations both bewildering and unexplained, doing what it has done since the beginning of time, thereby spawning fear into primitive minds, it was religion, its gods and stories that explained the unexplainable and made a frightful world suddenly seem purposeful. In the form of myths and fables, suddenly the world became understandable and decipherable. Out of chaos order could now be found, helping to put at ease primitive minds living in primitive and insecure environs.
Through all corners of the globe religion planted its sturdy roots, establishing itself in all societies and cultures. It was the universal human instinct, along with our similar thought processes and our ever-present ego, that enabled the metaphysical to rise from the lands of Earth, manifesting its existence in the minds of men and forever cementing both the foundations of meaning behind life and companionship in this world, making our existence less lonely through the myths of always watching gods overlooking their cherished creations.
All peoples, diverse in climate, location and environments, in culture, experiences and ethnicity created for themselves gods, myths and fables, some more elaborate than others. With no interaction between the vast majority of these tribes, religion took hold, in separate places and spaces, both in proximity and distance in time. Separated by vast oceans, arid deserts, frozen tundra or dense jungles, each people’s beliefs and gods were different, yet the idea of creating and worshipping deities existed throughout the world. Today we can see this reality in Paleolithic cave paintings in Eurasia celebrating an ancient artist’s deities; we can see it in African or Asian idols carved or molded; we can see it in North and South American cave dwellings, worshipping painted images; or in the painted rocks of Australia, where ancients celebrated the natural world.
Throughout the world entire the incessant human need to feel comfort away from loneliness rose from the minds of curious undertakings and imaginative answers. We were made to feel special and wanted, a creature chosen from the gods of nature to rule over the lands of Earth and all its creatures. Answers to where we came from were provided, helping place security in the meaning of life, helping the primitive and curious brain find solace as it journeyed inside a world with few answers and a universe of unfathomable understandings. Because of religious belief the search for answers to questions perplexing and frightful ended. Answers once sought were now provided by gods and their fables.
In all corners of the globe the human ego birthed creations and beliefs explaining a world not understood by primitive beings burdened by thought and reason. Rising independent of each other, various and diverse theologies show the psychology, fragility and inquisitiveness of the human mind. In all peoples, in all times and places, religion rose to provide the ego with the tools needed to survive and understand human society and culture. It was evolution of thought, for primitive peoples in need of answers, lacking the knowledge, technology and scientific exploration of today, that rose to make humankind’s interaction with the natural world around them more manageable.
Read the second half of this article: (plenty more where this came from)