Sunday, June 21, 2020


Comparative religion is a formal field taught at some universities.  Wikipedia, in its arrogant whiteboy Anglo way, says you can do many kinds of upper class things with it but not be clergy of any religion.  Fat lot they know.  Theism is their only key and criterion.  Indigenous religion doesn’t exist to them — only the institutions that have gotten big enough to have a political impact.  The anti-institutional Jesus gets lost under Paul’s letters about how to be important and big and more like the Romans.

Comparative culture goes on all the time and many address it, though it has a tendency to become psychology, going on about narcissism and depression, and only recently coming to things that were always considered to be anthropology as invented to cope with the news that if one left England for other continents, people there were different.  Their religions were so different it was hard to tell that’s what they were.

Cultures are a version of “race” which is a made-up category to explain a concentration of people pretty much alike at the center but thinning out towards the edges where they could claim the center or not.  My current reading book “The Great Human Diasporas” is interested in tracing the clusters and evolutions of genomes — not appearances though those result -- but the actual bioelectrochemical formulas of people, overlain and compared to linguistic “trees” and anecdotes of history to explain them.  Generally, they all fit together with no reference to religion, but if religion were included, the pattern wouldn’t be that different.

Though people unconsciously form a kind of personal belief system, which scientists now suggest is formed in the first years of life and is actually a physical structure in the brain, there is also a shared social system of the best way to conduct one’s life in a specific time and place, in what we now call an “ecology” meaning how things fit together to benefit each other.  If one is raised in one weather and political climate and then goes to another, there can be difficulties.  Even specifically Christian denominations are each different transplanted ecologies in response to different influences, usually socioeconomic but possibly ethnic, from another time and place.  

A major problem now is that the science of the educated world today makes the science of the world until the 20th century pretty much obsolete.  One cannot keep proclaiming that God is a Big Guy in the Sky is more than a sometimes wicked metaphor.  We are at a point when the key to Christianity, which is the Western concept of biological family, has been called into question.  This has terrifying consequences when one considers that’s Trump’s madness was formed by his bad relationship with his father and that the idea of “mafia” is based on family imposition of criminal order.

It is a sign of hope that Il Papa, the Pope, is an embodiment of Jesus rather than a Roman Emperor.

Human culture arises when a forming human being, guided by family, meets the environment, much of which is human beings.  The father and son Gavalli-Sforzas, authors of my "'diaspora book", had fallen in love with pygmies, a group of small dark jungle people that big white city people thought were not human.  But once known, the pygmy culture turned out to be excellent, both fitting and tolerant.  They were strange enough to most of us to be fascinating in a “National Geographic” way, which is nearly a religion and certainly comparative.

The major problems arise when the larger context — that which envelops the planet and even the cosmos — exceeds anything we had awareness of or even have words for.  Or — as now — the changes like the overwhelming climate shifts we are experiencing that are outside our capacity to control and happen too quickly to adapt.  Even the genome we were just beginning to pin down has now allowed the invasion of virus particles that we don’t even consider alive.  Prion diseases from “misfolded molecules” came out of nowhere and may be what causes senile dementia.  What should make us deeply humble and maybe terrified has caused many people to either revert to earlier times, maybe agricultural again, or to go wild on drugs and sex.

Wildness is not bad.  Discipline is not necessarily helpful.  Lives can be lost by an excess of either.  Time and circumstances have allowed cultures to develop complexity, so some people can be the elite of thought and others can be the berzerkers who fling themselves into violence.  A comparative culture person would try to figure out who’s what and why.  What does becoming a ballet dancer signify?  It began as a court dance in long skirts and has now become somehow entwined with sex, sometimes danced nude.  How the heck did that happen?

Every culture is a continuum, including dance culture.  At one end it might be so formal and idealistic as to be near inhuman, while at the other end is a kid twirling upside down on a piece of cardboard flung down on a sidewalk.  We’ve become interested in “primitive” movement and exploratory movement, so some people can seem made of rubber.  Towards the other end is the formal ball or partner dancing on ice, highly prescribed and synchronized.

The same is true of writing or clothes or houses.  We seem to be ending a time of insupportable extravagance, houses that are slabs of glass.  Our own flesh has become a slave to fashion, slimmed and painted.  At the other extreme are people engulfed in obesity, dressed in scraps, defiant and shrieking.

The consequence of living in a culture that is not one’s own is unpredictable.  This one, quietly agricultural, was destroyed by modern international and criminal corporations exploiting grain to be a political weapon.  Now the remnants provide shelter for urban criminals who pretend innocence.  We’re beginning to catch on to the internet, but still must drive long distances for health care and serious shopping.  Families are fighting hard to stay intact, since college degrees can scatter everyone but without qualifications, work is scarce.

One's best skill is curiosity.

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