You could call atheism a ‘not-for-prophet’ organisation. Boom, boom!
(Don’t you dare say ‘boom’ with a surname like Khan!)
From hereon, I’m collectively referring to Mohammed, Jesus and Abraham as ‘the prophets’. Buddha gets in there too, but only a foot over the threshold. Guru Nanak is out of the running, sadly and the creators of the Hindu scriptures prefer to remain anonymous.
I considered prophets and what it meant to be one. There are lots of them, mostly men and a smattering of women. The fact there are more men than women is not surprising in a male-dominated society. Nobody would listen to a woman and if she began shrieking about god and defying the group norms then she would be killed as a witch. Men had a higher success rate for being taken seriously. Henceforth, God is a male avatar. The only exceptions are the animist faiths, none of which I can really find much about other than crystal healing and pagan rhetoric. The concept of Mother Earth is a dying ideology, replaced by the dominant and masculine Allah and of course, God, the Father.
Of course, it makes more sense for God to be a woman as women create life, carry it in their maternal womb and shape its qualities. That a male mind could create such feminine diversity is not really acceptable to me. After all, men know shit about women apart from one is from a planet closer to the sun than the other. If I’m starting a religion, then it’s with a female figurehead, a matriarchal overseer.
The prophets had it rough, no one is disputing that but you’ll always get opposition from a group when you attempt to change its parameters. That the prophets got hated-on is no surprise at all but their persistence gave weight to their arguments for why would someone continue to endure suffering when they could renounce their idea as flawed and become one with the group again?
The answer is simple, I think. The prophets were all pissed-off with their social groups,the regimes that dominated them including enforced religion. They wanted out, they wanted changes and getting them alone was no easy task. They needed support to start their own group for a group of one has little power at all. Sadly for Jesus, the Romans recognised the threat of Christianity and maybe the Jews had a hand in his crucifixion too? Who knows? These powerful groups knew that Christ was a firebrand with a charismatic allure, his fate was sealed quickly.
The other architects of organised religion lived long and illustrious lives, many dying wealthy and powerful with the notable exceptions of Jesus and Buddha yet even these people had amassed a degree of kudos even at the time of their deaths. They hardly died alone, in the wider context of people who lamented their passing and swore to continue teaching their ethics.
There’s a burst of prophecy around the sixth-century BCE, the creation of Rome and other civilisations, the Greek and Southeast Asian enlightenment, Buddhism, early Taoism, a surge in the Judaism sect then its quiet for a few centuries until Jesus. Then the gap of about Five-cum-six centuries and another significant prophet. It is interesting to date the prophets; we know the time of Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed but Old Testament timelines are sketchy. Abraham might have lived anywhere between 2500 and 500 BCE. The article below gives a good geographically sound argument as to the timeline of Abraham.
Religion is epidemic, it has a defined source, a carrier if you like. Religions also seem to develop within the structures of other religions, as a schism that contravenes the group norm. We know that Judaism was born in the culture of the Mesopotamian and Babylonian times, that of mixed beliefs and a god for every occasion. We know that Christianity was built in the culture of mixed faiths, the polytheist Romans and the monotheist Jews. We know that the Hindu scriptures flourished in the Indus plains and suspect that the Harappan culture it grew within was an animist faith. Buddha was born into the Shakya beliefs, that of sun-worship and his views were no doubt fostered towards this ideology in early childhood, prince that he was. Mohammed was born into a similar climate of polytheist belief, the famous Kaaba being surrounded by 360 idols, if we are to believe the Qu’ran. Abraham was surrounded by the gods of Mesopotamia, maybe earlier cultures.
If we went back further, into the annals of history then we might find that from one initial epidemic school of thought, many divergences arose. Many within groups, either seeing the power of religious doctrine or feeling the need to interpret their religion differently will have split from the faith. Many ancient religions such as that of the Akkadians were formed through the conquest of one group and the absorption of its religious ideals. Nuanced faiths developed, obscure yet each one providing the follower with a sense of purpose and direction, a sense of placement in the world. New gods replaced old gods and new societies were formed around the beliefs.
We are creatures of routine, we have a circadian rhythm that regulates our bodies, we have cycles and structures within and around us that enable us to exist. Our whole universe is built on routine and cycles. Shit, even the fundamental building blocks of life are spherical. Even black holes are circular, dark-matter probably made from something to do with spheres and non-Euclidean contours, who the fuck knows? Damn, they even investigate dark-matter by spinning it in a big old circle, a cycle of routine to precipitate an event. Everything that matters is cyclic and round. Our very existence is a cycle of life. When the universe exploded, it did so without angles forming one giant routine of mechanics and dynamics. Is there a square planet out there? I wouldn’t discount it but insofar as we are aware, most things are locked into a routine in some way. All of the biological wonders around us are things of routine and habit. Sometimes there are deviants and we tend to call these things abominations or mutations, forgetting the fact that humanity is evolved from the unlikely reproductive mutation of cellular life.
Is it any wonder that we, too are creatures that inherently seek to order and categorize things, to explore and identify that which we do not understand? If our whole universe is built on order and routine then I am not surprised that we gravitate towards seeking order in our lives, a structure and a purpose, a desire to control the aspects of our existence.
The prophets knew this, they knew all too well the power of knowledge. Those who could answer questions and give meaning to things were revered as wise, most notably group leaders and high priests. The power of their understanding gave closure to others and enabled them to justify the irrational. These prophets were wise philosophers, indeed as were many of the architects of different faiths.
It is remarkable how many of the prophets were poor to begin with, simple folk who earned a status higher than kings. Buddha is an exception as he gave up the trappings of luxury to seek simplicity, a complete U-turn in conventional propheteering. Some might say that Buddha is not a prophet as he claims no governance by a higher power but his belief in the parinirvana means that he had foreknowledge of a state beyond death and therefore qualifies as a prophet, in my opinion. To have knowledge of beyond death is a key thing here.
What did the prophets need most at the time? I think attention is the common bond; they all had strong personalities, a propensity to question their environment, their families and their ethics. They were uncomfortable, probably due to their high levels of intelligence which must have verged on genius. Their questions could not be answered by the religious groups or if they were, they seemed unsatisfactory. They had self-confidence in their abilities as debaters and arguers, an early introspect by which they recognised their uniqueness. At this point, they should have denounced religion completely and strove to focus on the race as a divine thing, as humanity as the real miracle, never mind its origins. Buddha tried yet the faith diversified and split as it always will.
The prophets knew that if they claimed to have knowledge of the afterlife, of a power that controlled the environment and could grant life beyond death, they would be listened to. That was just a hook, I think to get people to listen to their ideas. Then the prophet could slip in his own ethics and morals, his version of the routines humanity should adopt in order to be successful. The notion of a higher being was used to instill a sense of conformity, a being that not only saw and heard everything but could stop one from entering the afterlife. If the prophet had justified themselves as the divine source of power then it would have been refuted. So they turned to the usual source of conformity, the threat of condemnation from an angry god. This practice had been around for centuries to ensure that people conformed to group standards. A man could be overruled and contested but a god could not be challenged. If a god saw fit to burn down a tenement or flood a plain, then it was the fault of the people for not being pious enough. I imagine that natural disasters were quite an instigator for early religion. We know the stories about tribes throwing shit into volcanoes to appease an angry god and contemporary religion is no different. There is always a sacrifice, if not physical then mental as the identity is subdued by dogma. We always have to give something to god; a ritual act or a prayer. These routines make us even more compliant and once adopted by a group, become their fundamental working practices, that which they build their identity around. After satisfying the demands of the god through propitiation, one would feel a sense of self-esteem at having complied faithfully with the rules, therefore guaranteed a place in the afterlife.
The prophets compelled us to be them, essentially. They infected us with their delusion and I think Dawkins might be right when he draws the comparison to memes and religion. A religious person will often consider what their prophet may or may not have done in any given situation. This school of thought is called theological jurisprudence and is a cornerstone of all religions in the modern-age. Scholars of the modern-day try to apply the archaic guidelines of scripture to current thinking and behaviour in the world and ask what their prophet would have done had he been alive. It has resulted in landmark changes in the tenets of religion, most of all in Christianity and the division of the Church of England which recognizes homosexuality and even blesses it. The true thread of Christianity, the Catholic church however refuses to condone such alliances.
Jurisprudence is big in theology, a major part of Islam. Shari’ah law is governed by religious jurisprudence with every deed being weighed against the opinions of the prophet, Mohammed. There is no room for maneuver in this religion, so tightly woven is the rhetoric and horribly biased towards religious dominance. Similarly, Judaism has its own orthodox scripture that binds the follower to its coda. All religions have rules, that which we must do in order to appease the relevant deity and gain admission to the hereafter. It’s like buying a ticket, think of it that way only you pay for your ticket your whole life and when you get it, you hope that it admits you to Heaven. There’s no statistical guarantee, only the word of one man.
Back to the prophets; these people were extremely different, very advanced for their era and in touch with themselves to a degree that far surpassed others in the peer group. Having been brought up in an environment that recognized higher powers, the prophets would have been aware of the power of religious lore and how it could make men and women compliant. They will have been enlightened men, akin to the philosophers of Greece and Southeast Asia and it took a fair while for them all to get their respective revelations. Even the Son of God lived in relative obscurity despite his prophetic and grand birth. One would have expected the boy Jesus to be elevated onto a platform immediately through his divine birthright and the testimony of the Wise Men would have gone a long way towards convincing others of the child’s uniqueness. Apparently, the prophet Abraham communed with God much earlier than the purported 75-years of age but he was old enough to be married and in custody of his brother’s son, no doubt a mature man. We depict Jesus as a relatively young man but in truth, he was in his thirties, getting-on-a-bit for the longevity of the era. Why did the prophets have to wait so long before they heard the word of God? Mohammed was in his forties, Buddha might have been a younger man when he started pondering his material being but his enlightenment came in his mid-thirties.
The pattern here is maturity. All of the prophets had to live a significant portion of their life before they became aware of the existence of a higher power. Jesus stands out somewhat as his parents no doubt bigged-up his personal esteem by telling him that he was the chosen one but I imagine that all of the prophet’s parents fostered a sense of the unique in their children, as we all tend to do. The prophets seem to be from stable backgrounds of family and love, despite the overriding environment of harshness and oppression. Their parents or carers no doubt treated them well, by the standards of the era. Even the Egyptians loved Moses prior to God’s intervention. Is there a prophet that was abused by his own family, prior to abandoning the original family group and starting a new faith? We could count the prophet Isaac as his father, Abraham tried to murder him at God’s behest but thankfully, it was just a test and the old goat was allowed to love his son after all. Pranked!
If you try to find out about the early years of the prophets, you’ll be hard-pressed as the information is scant. Prior to their revelations, the prophets were menial figures in their respective groups with menial roles, the notable exception being Buddha. Not one of them was recognized as a prophet before the age of thirty and it seems they did not perform any miracles prior to the time of their ‘becoming’. They were no doubt great thinkers and debaters, always questioning and philosophizing as they grew but nobody really listened to them aside from their immediate families. To what extent did the religious world around them influence their own perceptions of life, of death, of the heavens and earth?
Can we credit Judaism for being the first successful monotheist religion? I think so although the idea was probably kicked around in some areas of the desert by obscure tribes. The dominant ideologies were polytheist but organised hierarchically with a chief deity as overseer as concepts changed through invasion and integration. Ancient Rome’s structure put Zeus at the top of the mountain as supreme being. In Hindu scripture, Vishnu calls the shots and the other gods are beneath him. As for Mesopotamia, I don’t know but Anu and Ashur were pretty potent and there will have been ‘one god’ to rule them all. So the notion of ‘one god’ was already partially in place with a supreme deity holding sway over others, it would be easy to make the leap from one god of many to one conglomerated god combining all aspects of the others.
The story of Abraham puts him in a Mesopotamian cave, reflecting and using reason to evaluate the moon and stars, the cycles of the earth as well as his own cycles, that of life and death. He was a great philosopher and no doubt came to the conclusion (incorrectly) that one particular being regulated the cycles not many. He heard the voice of God, instructions to take the family and leave for Haran. God told him a few times when to pack up and leave, apparently which worked well for Abraham as he lived to be an incredibly advanced age. I can’t say whether he heard the voice of God or not but Abraham certainly believed he did.
Would it be fair to say that the prophets were enlightened to the point of schizophrenia? Some of their teachings were wise, their comments on nature and the workings of the world, very physically accurate but they were great philosophers and contemplatives. Maybe the voice of God was just a hook to say “Hey, guys! Guess what just happened to me!”. After all, if the prophets had emerged from their respective solitude and announced that everybody should listen to them because they knew best, they would have been challenged. What gave them the right to dictate the ethics of the group, wise as they may have seemed? If the instructions came from another source, one that could not be readily challenged yet which carried a greater import than any man then the prophets could shrug and say ‘Look, I’m just the messenger. Take it up with the Big Guy but remember, if you don’t listen to what he says, there will be consequences. I’m just saying…”
Let’s not forget that they were great orators. Mohammed is depicted as being quite shy and reticent prior to his revelation but this does not mean he was in any way stupid. Far from it, like most savants he probably felt isolated by virtue of his greater intelligence and kept his mouth shut until he grew the balls to make things happen. Had Jesus lived, he would have been a great military leader, no doubt, like Abraham and Mohammed and although Buddha may not have led an army, his followers were well versed in martial arts.
As it was, the Saints did Christ’s dirty work for him and the Pope picked up where they left off.
Delusions of grandeur, of self-importance to the extent that Jesus believed he was divinely fathered by God himself. All of the prophets must have had complex personalities and a narcissistic streak that compelled them to try to change the rules according to their own logic. There’s nothing wrong with philosophising, Pythagoras and Confucius did well without mentally dominating people with too much metaphysics. Buddha tried hard and if any religion is worth adopting, then Buddhism is the one. However, it is also the religion that requires the most sacrifice in terms of materialist concepts and materialism is important to our identities. We don’t want to follow the scripture too much else our economies will collapse as they are built on materialism.
Let’s just say that the prophets were extremely enlightened men who had some great ideas on how to evolve our thinking. Had they persisted in a scholarly and scientific route like Galileo or Einstein then we might be a lot better off than we are now. Sadly, their scriptures were tainted with human emotion, steeped in ritual and sacrifice, prejudiced and threatening. Sure, they offered the arms of a loving god to those disenchanted folk that roamed the world, those suffering and begging for alms. To those desperate for love, the idea of a warm, fatherly hug from God must have seemed delightful. The ideas of ‘loving gods’ were not usually the trend in those times. Most gods were functional gods, responsible for agriculture and the weather and the overseeing deity was usually a wrathful and greedy thing that required constant sacrifice. A loving God was just what the people needed and if they had to earn his love then so be it. That a god could change fortunes for sacrifice was no new concept. This particular god demanded ritual and placation through observation of ethics and behaviour. He demanded praise in a certain way that made the group unique, a method of behaving during praise that differentiated from the norm. He promised good things after death and love, most importantly for those who earned it.
A lot of people in Abraham’s family were in touch with God and its good to know that he kept in contact like a concerned patriarch over his great-grandchildren. God spoke to a lot of people after the prophets, it seemed like he had a party-line to everybody. It tapered off after the Catholic saints had their day and it seems like nobody has heard from God in a long while, apart from Abu-Bhakr Al Bhagdadi.
Mohammed was a crafty old fox, I wish we had him during World War Two to alliance against Hitler. Such was his charisma and power as head of the Islamic Empire that he tossed in a few caveats to the faith. Primarily, his version of God’s word was the only version and it would be the last time God spoke to anybody. This was God’s last-chance saloon for humanity. If they didn’t listen to Mohammed then there would be no further agents of the divine to seek guidance from. It was take it or leave it time. He also prophesied that the faith would split into seventy-three sects and only one would be regarded as the true faith. He facilitated this split by deliberately not leaving a will on his deathbed, forcing the heirs to squabble over rights to the caliphate. He had plenty of time to make his wishes known and the first schism between Sunni and Shia was born.
The prophets were all extremely intelligent men, not discounting the women, too. But the patriarchs of the faith, the original architects were the true geniuses. It’s a shame they had to invoke the help of a higher power to get their messages across and once they attained a degree of audience and power, their sense of self-importance magnified into megalomaniacal proportions. They had strong identities, were all set apart from the crowd even if they integrated unnoticed for decades. They fostered their concepts to the point of delusion and when they had perfected their own sense of morality, achieved their own personal enlightenment, they dropped the God-bomb and made everybody stop and listen.
Yes, they were persecuted but anybody with an idea that threatened the ethics of the dominant group would face opposition. They were exiled, apparently marked for death by Nimrod and Herod, the Pharaoh of Egypt in some cases, their births foretold as unique and divine yet their early manhood seeming trite and uneventful from a religious perspective. No miracles, plenty of time to dwell and contemplate like the great thinkers of the world. The prophets were all grown men when the heard from God and one might think that a mindful God might speak to a younger man ‘lest the older ones die. Mortality rates for the period were extremely high.
Buddha is a grey-area; he didn’t hear from God but he recognises that one can achieve a higher state of being through following routines and observing ritual, eventually resulting in a transcendence to parinirvana. His religion is the one that makes the most sense in terms of its focus on humanity as a divine thing, every person capable of reaching a state of enlightenment. But the notion of an afterlife makes it yet another form of control. It gives us a perceived reward for our labours, for our sacrifice. There have been plenty of enlightenment claims yet no-one can obviously return from parinirvana as this contravenes the ideology of life as a karmic cycle of birth and suffering. Therefore, only Buddha can confirm the existence of an afterlife as he is recognised to have achieved enlightenment and demonstrated powers superseding human ability.
Anyone can be a prophet if they have an idea that is both compelling and revolutionary and attach it to the word of a god. Sadly, these people will be quickly assessed and medicated, sent to therapy groups and the like. Trust me, I’ve met them. Philosophy is good, it helps us evolve our understanding through organic methods, through self-interrogation and self-awareness but religion demands that we think a certain way and that is not acceptable if we are to have free-will. Just because I disagree with scriptures should not mean that I go to Hell. A loving and forgiving God would understand the human rationale and my obvious disbelief so I don’t need to worry. So long as I don’t break any biggies that apply to the humanist morals of our societies, like rape and calculated murder then I should be good to go to Paradise. If I kiss a man on the mouth and maybe slip in some tongue, I shouldn’t be the Devil’s plaything.
One final point is that of punishment in the scriptures. A lot of onus is in the group to mete out punishment for breach of God’s rules. In Islam, all manner of horrific punishments, quite body-specific are mentioned to fit certain crimes. The Islamic State have seized upon this scripture and readily crucify people and pull walls onto them, cut off appendages and burn people alive. These cruel and unusual punishments are so obviously the work of a creatively sadistic mind that it’s a wonder any of them are even followed in the Arab culture yet they are, to this day in United Nations countries, no less. We all observe the fact that, if the lore is contravened then we lose our seat in Heaven. This means that the reward element of the faith is gone. To a faithful person, this would be the worst thing ever, there would not really be a need to punish them in any other manner than the summary execution method at the time, probably beheading. In fact, there would be no need to punish them at all because God had done the worst to them. The problem there was that people might continue to live and if they fell out of favour with the religion, especially with ethics that contravened the prophet’s desires then they were liable to cause dissent. Even if a person were imprisoned, they still had a voice and a presence. Killing them for blaspheming was essential to stop the outbreak of another religion. God’s punishment, it seems it not enough.
Today, people are imprisoned for blasphemy. Some are shunned from their groups for having a difference of opinion, others fare much worse and are executed for having an identity. I’m blaming the prophets directly for the state of the world. Virtually all of our civilised societies worldwide are based around the ‘big six’ religions; Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism.
I’ve put in this link to the Google NGRAM viewer, an interesting tool that indexes millions of sources to find trends in certain words and phrases. It’s been condemned for being inaccurate beyond the 1800’s but it’s still fun to play around with. The words I’d like you to test whilst you play around with it are ‘Islam, Fear, Christianity, Allah, Nuke’, remember to capitalise them. If anything, the NGRAM shows the rise in trends. Compare the other religions, it’s interesting. Don’t focus on the figures too much but the sharpness of the gradient, either up or down. Words such as ‘Terror’ have been simmering in trend for a while, others like ‘Nuke’ and ‘Fear’ have shot up dramatically. Religion is directly responsible for this and if you think differently, then try and consider which faith your own country is established upon, as it surely will be.
Disclaimer: I cannot prove nor disprove the afterlife or the existence of a higher power, I can only provide arguments for and against it. Please do not take my opinions as verbatim and scientifically proved. I cannot know the minds of the prophets nor would I even come close intellectually, I can only base my thoughts on my own perceptions of mental illness, both personally and through research as I suffer from a number of complicated mental health issues. My ideas about the period are based on what we speculate about the mindset of the time. I was not born in the sixth-century BCE but the seventies felt like it when you compare it to the digital age. Thanks for reading.