Religion and believers #4 Order of Nature and Polytheism on the way to monotheism

The Order of Nature.

When man came to look for the natural forces and moral energies, he came to see that there should be one central Force, directing everything or being in control of everything. From all the sorts of gods, man found out they did not really bring the answer to bring them totally at rest. Many found those different gods could be helpful in some cases, but also could be hostile. Lots of people believed they had their house spirits to live with and tried to keep what they thought would be their customs and gave them small offerings in return for protection and hoping for some help around the house and in their life.

The people counted on elemental, special, occasional, but also on sub gods, which were in some religions, like Catholicism, called saints. These types of “small” gods tended to be the most active in the daily lives of people. They will be credited for bringing the family blessings, something to eat when food was scarce, or with returning missing belongings when things got lost. All those peoples who had their gods, got them to receive something from them or to keep the bad things away from them.

Some people wondered why they would have so many gods and would have to serve them all. For some, it all looked illogical and did not give them solutions in a life that stayed so difficult, with a lot of suffering. What if they would direct themselves to the Main God, or the God Who is above all those gods? All religions have some main or most important god. And each religion has a slightly different understanding of the one who would be in charge of everything. But all want to see a “Divine Being“, even when it might be with a different understanding of the relationship of humans to that “Being” they worship. We can see that everywhere, religions try to provide answers and a code of morality or code of conduct for their adherents. Everywhere, those religions act as a guide for people and spell out what humans must do in order to gain favour with God.

Polytheism on the way to monotheism

Polytheism is here on the way to monotheism, and this tendency receives significant support from the recognition of an order in nature which is the ground and framework of social ethics.

Not only does a sky-god like the Indian god-sovereign Varuna, or a sun-god like the Babylonian Shamash, survey all human things, and take cognizance of the evil-doer, but the daily course of the world is itself the expression of intellectual and moral power. In the Chinese combination of Heaven and Earth as the parents and nourishes of all things, the energy and action lie with Tien, Earth being docile and receptive. Tien is intelligent and all-observing, and its “sincerity” or steadfastness, displayed in the courses of the sun and moon and the succession of the seasons, becomes the basis of right human conduct, personal and social. The “way” of Heaven, the “course” of Heaven, the “lessons” of Heaven, the law or “decree” (ming) of Heaven, are constantly cited as the pattern for the emperor and his subjects. This conception is even reflected in human nature:

“Heaven in giving birth to the multitude of the people, to every faculty and relationship affixed its laws” (Shi King, III. iii. 6; cf. IV. iii. 2, tr. Legge),

and the “Grand Unity” forms the source of all moral order (Li Ki, in Sacred Books of the East, xxvii. p. 387). Indian thought presented this Order in a semi-personal form. The great elemental gods imposed their laws (dhāman, dharman, vrata) on the visible objects of nature, the flow of rivers, the march of the heavenly bodies across the sky. But the idea of Law was generalized in the figure of Rita (what is “fitted” or “fixed ”; or the “course” or “path” which is traversed), whose Zend equivalent asha shows that the conception had been reached before the separation of the Eastern Aryans produced the migrations into India and Iran.[Cf. Max Müller, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion (Hibbert Lect., 1878), v., and the Vedic treatises of Ludwig, Bergaigne and Wallis.] In the Rig Veda the gods (even those of storm) are again and again described as “born from the Rita,” or born in the cosmic order, according to it, or of it. Even Heaven and Earth rejoice in the womb or lap of the Rita. In virtue of the mystic identity between the cosmic phenomena and sacrifice, Rita may be also viewed as the principle of the cultus; and from that sphere it passes into conduct and acquires the meaning of morality and is equated with what is “true.” The fundamental idea remains the same in the Zend Asha, its philological counterpart, but it is applied with a difference. Its form is more personal, for Asha is one of the six Holy Immortals round the throne of Ahura Mazda (Auramazda – Avestan: “Wise Lord”).

Maat.svg
Maat or Maʽat, the ancient Egyptian concepts of truth, balance, order, harmony, law, morality, and justice, but also the goddess and the personification of truth and justice. Her ostrich feather represents truth.

In the primeval conflict between the powers of good and evil, the Bounteous Spirit chose Asha, the Righteous Order which knit the world together and maintained the stars.[Yasna, xxx. 5; Sacred Books of the East, xxxi. p. 30; cf. pp. 44, 51, 248.] The immediacy of the relation between Ahura and Asha is implied in the statements that Ahura created Asha and that he dwells in the paths which proceed from Asha; and when he created the inspired word of Reason, Asha consented with him in his deed. In its ritual form Asha becomes the principle of sacrifice, and hence of holiness, first ritual and then moral. Like Rita, it rises into an object of worship, and in its most exalted aspect (Asha vahista, the “best” Asha, most excellent righteousness) it is identified with Ahura himself, being fourth among his sacred names (Ormazd Yasht, § 7; S.B.E. xxiii. p. 25).
Egyptian speculation, in like manner, impersonated the conceptions of physical and moral order as two sides of a fundamental, unity in the goddess Maāt. Derived from the verb , “to stretch out,” her name denoted the ideas of right and rule, and covered the notions of order, law, justice and truth, which remained steadfast and unalterable. Mythologically she was the daughter (or the eye) of the sun-god ; but she became Lady of Heaven and Queen of Earth, and even Lady of the land of the West, the mysterious habitation of the dead. Each of the great gods was said to be lord or master of Maāt; but from another point of view she “knew no lord or master,” and the particular quality of deity was expressed in the phrase anχ em maāt, “living by Maāt,” which was applied to the gods of the physical world, the sun and moon, the days and hours, as well as to the divine king. She was solemnly offered by the sovereign to his god; and the deity replied by laying her within the heart of his worshipper “to manifest her everlastingly before the gods.” So in the famous scene of the weighing of the soul, which first appears pictorially under the New Empire, she introduces the deceased before the forty-two assessors of the heavenly judge, Osiris, and presides over the scale in which his actions and life are weighed. From the zenith to the realm of the departed she is the “queen of all gods and goddesses.”[Cf. Renouf, Hibbert Lectures, p. 119; Brugsch, Rel. und Mythol., p. 477; Wiedemann, Arm. du Musée Guimet, x. p. 561; Budge, Gods of Egypt, i. p. 416.]

0029MAN-Themis.jpg
Themis, one of the twelve Titan children of Gaia and Uranus, and the second wife of Zeus. She is the personification of justice, divine order, fairness, law, and custom, and her symbols include the Scales of Justice.

The Hellenic polytheism of Homer and Hesiod is already at work upon similar ideas, and a whole group of mythic personifications slowly rises into view representing different phases of the same fundamental conception. Themis (root θε = Sanskr. dha, as in dhāman) appears in Horner as the embodiment of what is fit or right;[Cf. Διὸς Θέμιστες, Od. xvi. 403; cf. Apollo, Hom. Hymn. 394.] she convenes or dismisses assemblies, she even keeps order at the banquet of the gods. Next, Hesiod supplies a significant biography. She is the daughter of Ouranos or Uranus and Gaia; and after Metis she becomes the bride of Zeus.[Theog. 135, 901] Pindar describes her as born in a golden car from the primeval Oceanus, source of all things, to the sacred height of Olympus to be the consort of Zeus the saviour; and she bears the same august epithet, as the symbol of social justice and the refuge for the oppressed.[Fr. 6, 7; Ol. viii. 29] Law was thus the spouse of the sovereign of the sky, but Aeschylus identified her with the Earth (worshipped at Athens as Gē-Themis), not only the kindly Mother, but the goddess who bound herself by fixed rules or laws of nature and life.[Farnell, however, supposes that Gē acquired the cult-appellative through her prophetic character (Cults of the Greek States, iii. p. 12). The union of Zeus and Themis is, then, a later equivalent of the marriage of Zeus and Earth (ibid. p. 14).]

For the cultus of the earth as the source of fertility was associated with the maintenance of the family, with the operations of agriculture and the social order of marriage. So Themis became the mother of the seasons; the regular sequence of blossom and fruit was her work; and Good Order, Justice and Peace were her offspring.[Paus. v. 17; Hes. Theog. 901; Pindar, Ol. xiii. 6; ix. 26.] By such conceptions the Hellenic polytheism was moralised; the physical character of the greater gods fell into the background, and the sculptor’s art came to the aid of the poet by completely enduing them with personality.

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Next: Religion and believers #5

Preceding

Religion and believers #1 Lots of groups to be taken interest in

Religion and believers #2 Different forms of Truth

Religion and believers #3 From father and mother gods to land and local gods

A Book to trust #6 True God and true words

A Book to trust #3 Creation and Creator

Trinitarians making their proof for existence of God look ridiculous #7

Trinitarians making their proof for existence of God look ridiculous #10

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Additional reading

  1. God above all gods
  2. The Almighty Lord God of gods King above all gods
  3. Worship
  4. Worshipping God
  5. Worship and fellowship

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