ever widening…

So, I learned a new word yesterday: kathenotheism.

It describes belief in a sequence deities and a succession of supremacy. Veneration of a series of deities, each in turn, might be painted as the theological equivalent of respect for the office of the presidency rather than of any given office holder. Both the term and concept are new to me and I’m fascinated.

Given my long-standing curiosity about non-Christian faiths and Greek mythology in particular, it seems odd that this did not cross my radar much sooner. Kathenotheism should have come up during an examination of the Smarta Tradition of Hinduism if not of Orphism.

In Astral, the novel-in-progress, there is a faction that might have developed a faith separate and distinct from other groups in their society. Now I will probably have this one-by-one Supreme Being notion be part of their religion.

My introduction to kathenotheism came during research into what’s called “conreligion” by some. This is the practice, related to conworlding, of constructing a fictional religion – usually for a roleplaying game setting or work of fiction. Apart from the gods themselves, ritual practices, and creation myths another aspect of this effort can be making a determination as to whether society is regressive, progressive, or cyclical.

In more than a few religions the Earth was created perfect and has been losing ground ever since. This was part of the Aztec view and is found in some movements within Hinduism. In both the current Age is held to be the worst of four or five. In Vedic belief the next Age with be newly Golden. Hesiod, in his “Works and Days”, wrote of something similar but says little to nothing about starting again.

In politics there is a theory some espouse that our nation was at its best at some time in the past. The phrase “Greatest Generation” can be seen as the equivalent of a high-water mark. The myth of the Golden Age is the primary underpinning of cries of “taking the country back”. Though common today it is hardly a new perspective.

I’m more optimistic; I learned at least some of my humanism and idealism from Gene Roddenberry, after all. I am a bit skeptical about whether we’ll achieve the kind of utopia he imagined but I do agree with Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

In his response to the Montgomery bus boycott, Dr. King was making a reference to Theodore Parker from almost a century earlier: “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

If the path of history is not progressive we can still want it to be. Write and work to help guide it in that direction. Any and every virtue can be used in place of “justice” in the quotes above. If entropy is a strong factor in societal development we have to wonder why any civilization achieves any greatness at all – let along begins in the first place.

Historically and globally, we humans have been worried about ‘how it will all end’. Changing that to a concern with an endpoint would, I think, be preferable. We’re also a species rather obsessed with our own free will and intellect. Ages come and go, kath’ héna (καθ’ ἕνα). Going with the flow while circling a metaphorical drain belies those aspects of which we are so proud.

For that faction in Astral I may be trying to combine both progressive and regressive trends with a cyclical pattern. I’ve taken a line like the one traced in a seismogram or encephalogram (etc.) and twisted it along a spiral.

Cyclical-Divine

If there is any truth to the cyclical nature of Ages and if effort to build and maintain virtue (including justice), peace, and harmony can make this Age better than we find it – maybe the next Age can be even better. I don’t think it matters if we ever have proof.

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ex metum…

It seems to me that any thinking, rational humans have decided for themselves that life is precious and good – perhaps without knowing this choice has been made. An alternative view, that our sense of survival and self-preservation derives merely from instinct, would mean that none of us are more than creatures.

The universal view of how wonderful having a life and living it for as long as possible is best represented in legend by the world’s various Flood myths. Noah’s story and that of Utnapishtim (in the Epic of Gilgamesh) are the most well known but the concept is a worldwide and long-standing one – appearing in the lore of at least a few dozen cultures.

Most involve the construction of a boat; those that do not indicate that survivors climbed tall trees or the highest mountains to reach safety. In Greek mythology, there was a deluge of incredible magnitude at least three times, two of which marked the end of a specific Age. The first of the three was considered an ancient event by those we now call the ancient Greeks.

After the second the line of Deucalion and Pyrrha to the end of the Heroic Age consists of ten generations. The chronology of Archbishop James Ussher places the Genesis Flood at 2348 ʙᴄ. This can’t be made to match timelines of Greek myth as the end of the end of the Bronze Age is estimated somewhere between 1480 and 1450ʙᴄ. It is interesting to note that the 2nd Christian Age also lasts ten generations – from Noah and Emzara to Abraham and Sarah.

generation

I don’t mean to suggest here the Flood myths and traditions are all the same. Further, I do not support the claim that a very widespread myth is in and of itself evidence of an otherwise unsubstantiated event in prehistory. The dates can’t be forced to match. Hesiod’s list of Ages does not align with that of St. Augustine.

What all the world’s epic disasters do seem to have in common is the reaction to the perception that things are getting worse all the time. The philosophy of “life sucks and then you die” and the complaint about “these kids today and their haircuts” are nothing new but they become amplified when society is seen as being in decline.

The notion that might makes right also has a long history and gains strength in such times whether the decline is real or not. In essence, the diagnosis of social woe is: “The Divine has forsaken us for we have lost our righteous way.” From this point the reaction in myth and sociology follows a similar pattern.

realmyth

This is all shockingly familiar in today’s political climate – but really not the point of these stories if life truly is precious and good. Not to be too cute about it but I think we’ve missed the boat.

Hesiod did not suggest what Age would follow his own times. And the implied 7th Age of St. Augustine starts with the End of Days. In the first formulation one might expect something worse than the Dark Ages but even that would be preferable to the prevailing current meaning of apocalypse.

Since Hesiod is silent and we believe life is so precious and so good we’ll go to heroic lengths to preserve and maintain it, let’s not assume that the best days are behind us in an ever more remote Golden Age. Such an Age should be held as an ideal to strive toward rather than a long-ago lofty perch from which we’ve fallen (and continue to fall). If we can’t actually reach Ages of Silver or Gold, I’d settle with joy for a new Heroic Age.

Rather than paint the sort of heroism required by who is condemned and who is spared I’d prefer to define righteousness by who best points the way and lights the path.