Article 41: As societies evolved from family-groups and tribes to chiefdoms and states, the power elite created the gods to glue the people together as “brothers and sisters”, in order to let them work and fight for them.
According to ‘The Hymn of Creation’, the 129th hymn to the 10th mandala of the Rig Veda, ca. 1500 B.C., “the Gods themselves are later than creation.”
The Poetry of Creation – Rig Veda, Book 10, Hymn 129
So who created the Gods and why were they invented, for what purpose? In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Guns, Germs and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies, in chapter 14, “From egalitarianism to kleptocracy”, Jared Diamond gives an intelligent answer to both questions and a short history of the development of human societies as well.
In the history of our kind, humankind, the family-group has been the smallest community possible for most of the time. Until 40.000 years ago all humans lived in family-groups. About 5 till 80 people were closely related to each other, or by birth or by marriage. They all spoke the same language. Their way of life was nomadic. Their decision-taking was egalitarian. There was no monopoly of power. There was no religion and no kleptocracy, no abuse of power for personal gain. Exchange happened directly and reciprocally.
Tibetan nomads family on the move. Credit to SnowLion Tours
About 13.000 years ago, family-groups began to live together in a larger community, the tribe.
A tribe consisted of a few hundred people. Everyone knew everyone else by name and relationship. They all spoke the same language. Their way of life was sedentary, in one settlement. They took their decisions based on equality. There was no upper nor lower class. Each member had debts and obligations to many others. No one became more wealthy than anyone else. There was no organized religion or ideology, nor abuse of power for personal gain.
Exchange happened directly and reciprocally. Reciprocity resulted in food security and balanced inequities. Gift giving created an obligation to return similar gifts. Prestige came from giving more than taking. Feasting improved relations, prevented hostility and was an excellent way to “store” food. Reciprocity also led to intermarriage. Villages were connected by multiple ties of kinship.
Family group, Nomadic; Malaysia, Sarawak, Borneo, South East Asia.
Home to the Penan, traditional nomadic hunter-gatherers, of whom only one thousand survive, eating roots and hunting wild animals with blowpipes. Credit to the Golden Scope
Archaeological evidence suggests that chiefdoms originated out of tribes because of rising populations, about 7.500 years ago, in the Fertile Crescent, near the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, and 3.000 years ago in Central America and the Andes area. A chiefdom consisted of several thousands to tens of thousands of people. Chiefdoms usually had public architecture, like temples and tombs. Most people were unrelated to others and didn’t know most others by name.
There are no chiefdoms left in the 21th century. Their land has been taken by the much larger state-societies. For the first time in history, people had to learn how to encounter strangers regularly without attempting to kill them!
The Chief held monopoly on the right to use force. He held a recognizable and hereditary office. He wore distinguishing clothes that demanded respect. He was thought of as ‘divine’ himself, or at least as having a private and exclusive hotline to the ‘Other Worlds’ in the heavens.
White Shield, an Indian Chief. Credit to Edward S. Curtis, 1908
He was the central authority and he had the monopoly on information. Several levels or bureaucrats worked under the Chief and many specialized jobs were done by slaves. The Chief received food from everyone and gave feasts to redistribute it, stored it for later distribution and kept much of it himself, as a tribute. In Mesopotamia, for example, police ensured that farmers contributed. The Chief also claimed labor from everyone for construction of public works, like irrigation and lavish tombs.
The Chief received goods from many, because he had power. But he had power only as long as he regularly directed a flow of goods to his people. The early city-states operated on this principle. Food surpluses, generated by the common people, fed first the Chief, second the Priests and the Bureaucrats and third the Craft Specialists. All luxury goods were reserved for the Chief. Traders did not make a profit for themselves, but were agents of the Chief. The goods were traded on a fixed-price basis: traders did not buy low and sell high to enrich themselves.
Good chiefdoms used the tribute to provide important services for the entire society, like defense and irrigation.
At worst, chiefdoms were kleptocracies. They transferred net wealth from commoners to the upper class.
How did kleptocracies avoid being overthrown? They disarmed the populace and armed the elite, redistributed the tribute in popular ways, used their monopoly of force to keep public order and constructed an ideology or a religion that justified the status quo of kleptocracy.
In conspiracy with the so-called priests they declared a ‘State Religion’, providing a bond between people not based on kinship. This kept them away from killing each other and gave warriors a motive for sacrificing their life in a battle, making them much more effective in conquest.
States arose 3.700 BCE in Mesopotamia, and later in Meso-America, China, South-East Asia, the Andes and West Africa. A state consists of 50.000 to one billion people. Usually the elites are literate.
Nowadays most of the population is literate too. The differences in wealth are baffling. According to a 2015 Oxfam report called “Wealth”, the richest 1% of people in the world will own more wealth than the remaining 99% of people in May 2016. According to the British Think-Tank, the High Pay Centre, British CEO’s will have already earned more on the first Tuesday evening of 2016 than the average Brit will earn in the whole of 2016.
States have true cities, characterized by monumental public works, palaces of rulers, accumulation of capital from tribute or taxes and a concentration of people other than food producers. States have much more complex bureaucracies, formalized laws – often written by the elite – judiciary and police.
More than 20.000 workers built the 17th century Taj Mahal, Agra, India
In 15 years 1000 workers built Roman Aqueduct, Pont du Gard, France
In the early states there were state religions with standardized temples. Many kings were supposed to be divine. Kings were often the head of the state religion. The Mesopotamian Temple was the center of religion, of economic redistribution, of writing and of crafts technology as well.
States are organized on political and territorial lines, not on kinship- or tribe-boundaries. States and empires often are multi-ethnic and multilingual. The bureaucrats are selected more on ability than on heredity. Modern states have non-hereditary leadership.
In case they function well, states use the tribute to provide important services to the entire society, like education, health care, defense, justice and environmental planning. In case they function worse, they are kleptocracies, just like chiefdoms functioning badly.
Even in so-called modern states, a shared ideology or an organized religion first “helps solve the problem of how unrelated individuals are to live together without killing each other, by providing them with a bond not based on kinship,” and second “gives people a motive, other than genetic self-interest, for sacrificing their lives on behalf of others.” (Jared Diamond, page 278).
Organized religion traces its roots to the neolithic revolution, that began 11.000 years ago in the Near East, but may have occurred independently in several other locations around the world. The invention of agriculture transformed many human societies from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a sedentary lifestyle.
The consequences of the neolithic revolution included a population explosion and an acceleration in the pace of technological development. The transition from foraging bands to states and empires precipitated more specialized and developed forms of religion that reflected the new social and political environment. While bands and small tribes possessed supernatural beliefs, these beliefs did not serve to justify a central authority, nor did they justify transfer of wealth or maintain peace between unrelated individuals, but state religions did: ‘Gods’ glued people together!
Organized religions and other ideologies emerged as a means of providing social and economic stability through the following ways:
(1) Justifying the central authority, which in turn possessed the right to collect taxes in return for providing social and security services.
(2) Bands and tribes consisted of small numbers of related individuals. However, modern states and nations are composed of many millions of unrelated individuals. Jared Diamond argues that organized religion serves to provide a bond between unrelated individuals as “brothers and sisters”, who would otherwise be more prone to enmity. In his book he argues that the leading cause of death among hunter-gatherer societies was murder.
(3) Moreover, religion gives people a motive, other than genetic self-interest and fighting for their own offspring, to sacrifice their own lives for others. At the expense of “some” of its members as a soldier or a martyr, dying “For God and Country”, “Por Dios y España” or “For Allah and the Islamic world-domination”, the community as a whole becomes more effective in defending itself against and in conquering other communities, all to the greater glory of the political and religious elite.
The states born out of the Neolithic revolution, such as those of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, were theocracies with chiefs, kings and emperors playing dual roles of political and spiritual leaders. The British Monarchy – right now, 2016, Queen Elisabeth II – still holds the title of ‘Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England’, the Anglican Church.
Anthropologists have found that virtually all State Societies and Chiefdoms from around the world have been found to justify political power through divine authority. This suggests that political authority co-opts collective religious belief to bolster itself. We see this happening still in our days in countries like Iran. In other countries, we find a division of this labor, job-sharing or dual job: presidents for the worldly affairs, popes and priests for the other-worldly. In a joint effort they still rule the world, one blessing and consecrating the other, in exchange for a kiss on the feet.
Emperor kissing the Pope’s feet; Credit to Foxe’s book of Martyrs
The Archbishop of Reims crowning Charles VII of France (1429)
Barack Obama, Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy with the most deadliest weapons ever in the hands of one man, swearing the oath of office of the President of the United States, the ‘One Nation under God’, using the Bible of Abraham Lincoln.
Yes: “The Gods themselves are later than creation.”
Organized religions are man-made and so are all ideologies. Together with the nations they serve, they are dividing the one humanity. When do we choose to do without them, to drop them? Our tendency to hang on to ideologies and religions is a relative young feeling. It was completely unknown to people living in family-groups and in tribes, non-existent for men up to 7500 years ago. It arose with the earliest signs of chiefdoms and, later on, with states arising. It is not rooted yet very deep into our humanity. And unless we un-man-make it, the violence between states and their ideologies and religions will continue.
One of us wrote this beautiful song, one which appeals to so many people all over the world and became the number 1 of all the top 2000 popular songs in the Netherlands in the year 2015.
And another one of us suggests:
“That should be the approach of a religious person: start feeling a brotherhood towards all that is, let that be your meditation and your prayer.” (Osho, Turn On, Tune In and Drop the Lot, Ch 8)
So ‘drop the lot’! Or aren’t we born to become “human”, to live like a star, transforming ourself into love and compassion, and to die like a supernova, giving our wealth back to the universe?
Thanks to Jared Diamond for his analysis and to John Lennon for his dream as well.