It is always funny when you hear people talk about the past and refer to it in a modern context. We tend to automatically assume that things were the same then as they were now. You can find very clear examples of this in many fanatical groups; feminists who believe women have always been subjugated, Christian fundamentalists who believe we’ve always been Christian (even though God really didn’t show up as a character in stories until the Old Testament). What is racism except for a concept of people (race) then defined by an idea (inferiority)?
In some ways, these ideas are both true and false at the same time. At one point or another every race has been inferior to another; when the guy next to you invents a wheel, he can prosper and you fall behind. Using that wheel you build a carriage and then your family leaps ahead. The history of humanity has really been a series of races to certain destinations, with different groups at different times achieving different levels of success. What we need to remember is that history, just like the future, is fluid, depending on where you stand.
A black woman looking back through history is going to see it differently than a white woman, or a Greek woman, or a Jewish woman. The paths that brought them all HERE are as different as the paths that are going to take them wherever they are headed. We accept the fact that each person has a different end, but we often overlook the fact we have different beginnings. This is not where the danger lies, however. The danger comes from our inability to admit that people in the past had drastically different ideas than us.
Let’s look at the time of Jesus, for example. You cannot apply modern thinking to that era. The people who lived in those days had no concept of a divine Creator, nor did they have any kind of scientific method to disprove it. Their concept of themselves, as having a hand in their own destiny, was still a new idea and was mainly the providence of the elite; kings were important, people were not. You were what you were and then you were gone. That was really all life amounted to. How could a man be asked to accept the value of his wife, or of any women, when he had no sense of his own value? Remember, there was no Virgin Mary myth then, it came hundreds of years later as part of another religion far removed from the original teachings of Jesus.
The early Hebrew people had been tracking their own lineage for only a short time, but this sense of continuity, of personal history, was their own unique invention. Basically, they made themselves the stars of their own story, the apple of their own God’s eye. This powerful new idea of self-actualization was perhaps the greatest act of rebellion that any living thing has ever committed. Those early Jewish people said “the circle of life can be broken, by the right person at the right place at the right time.”
If you go back and read stories from the time before Jesus, for example, early Sumerian myths, they are about as interesting as twitter. There is no real plot progression, there is no real attempt to create a beginning, middle and end. These concepts simply did not exist.
Never one to follow the popular trends, I am actually moving closer to a religious life than farther away. I’ve always been an atheist but I’ve reached a point where I can appreciate the value of the Bible. For many of us, religious stories are the first stories we hear. The miracles of Moses and Jesus and the fighting spirit of Mohammed are the first inspirational stories that some of us ever hear. It might be cool to mock Jesus today, but what is Jesus but the Superman of the ancient world? Except unlike Superman, who has all these amazing abilities, Jesus brought new IDEAS into the world. The idea that you could sacrifice and reach a heavenly rest, that there was an All-Father watching over us who would, in the end, take us to his side. This is powerful imagery, powerful myth that has lasted for 2000 years.
The reason I am writing about this is because we can’t laugh or judge the past too harshly. One day we’ll be the simple-minded, the unimaginative people of the past who lived like barbarians. Or perhaps we’ll be remembered as the angels of history, the glorious people who once lived on the surface, now just a myth to the Morlocks below.
We’ve reached a point in history where something is going to give, something is going to break open. A new idea is going to sweep across the planet, slowly at first, perhaps from a small tribe in Israel, perhaps by a wise Asian philosopher, perhaps by the sacrifice of a new man to his new God.
It’s time we started a new narrative, a new story to lead us into the 21st century. These things always start at the bottom, among the poor and the suffering and the needy. It will not come from TV and the internet, although who can say for sure?
Personally, I believe we’re due for a Space Jesus, a new interpretation of what it means to be kind and compassionate to our fellow man combined with the modern science of space exploration. Whether you are science oriented or a faith based person, all those planets out there aren’t there for nothing. Our concept of what we are is changing, technology is changing everything now, but we must not let the idea of technology take over our personal history, any more than ancient people would have let the wheel or plow become their God.
Yet even then, the idea of Mother Earth began with agricultural societies. Who knows what concepts and ideas will take hold of our future?
As much as I love science, science can only explain it cannot guide or predict. Science gives us the knowledge and the tools but the concept of what it means to be human is for us to decide. The sooner the better. Let’s put a statue of Jesus on the Moon, if only as an excuse to go there one more time. Let’s put a statue for every faith, I mean why not? Space is where humanity is heading, let’s take our concepts from the past and let them point us to the future.
I mean we left a plaque there for Richard Nixon, didn’t we??