Monday, August 18, 2008

Eternity and Eternals, continued...

So, picturing an eternal being is not easy. We humans have mathematical and linguistic concepts of eternity, but we do not really have an actual physical experience of it. We can conceptualize it, imagine it in many ways, but we can never truly know it, so, what is my conception of an eternal being and how it interacts with the cosmos?

Choosing an image for this is not so easy as it may seem, as I want to relate it to the mundane world in which all of our experiences are based, so I have to find an image that we can all relate to. For us, the idea of nationhood, culture, and language are ubiquitous, so I will go with the paradigm of civilization.

A civilization is like a God. It encompasses a great many languages, cultures, even religions, while its tendrils find their way into every aspect of life for the people. A civilization encompasses things like linguistic relation, moral uniqueness, mindset, political forms, religious forms (Christianity is an offshoot of Hellenism, for example) and, and this one is important, a philosophical mindset. All of these things tend to run as a kind of commonality within a civilization, even when there are differences in religion and language in that civilization.

A God is like a civilization. It’s power and influence run throughout the cosmic sphere, from the highest order of magnitude to the lowest, and in so doing he binds things together. In its totality, a God is like Chinese or European civilization, each of which is composed of many languages that are related in some way, and yet there is commonality between these languages and cultures that make up the whole. A God and its many different aspects all make up a whole, but like the cultures within a civilization, each of the aspects has its own contextual uniqueness with which the people connect.

Does that make any sense?

Think of it this way. The French are part of European civilization, a civilization that can be said to have been sparked by the Hellenic influence. The French are unique, and they relate to each other within a French context, a context that makes up their culture and linguistic uniqueness. Yet a French man can travel to Germany or America or Portugal and find that while he is uniquely different from that general culture, he is also bound to that culture by the similarities, the threads of civilization, that run through all of the European cultures.

Some ascribe this to the common religious thread that is Christianity, but that is a false assumption because even before Christianity, the philosophical and religious context of the Hellenes, Romans, Germanics, and Celts was tied together by commonalities that the Romans often saw in the ritual and beliefs of the people they encountered in Europe, commonalities that were not as evident to them with regard to the Egyptians or Semites of the Levant.

When we see a God this way, we begin to see that religious contexts are very important to the understanding of a God, because within each religion, the power of a God is made felt in the ways that that culture interprets it and allows it to flourish. This means that if you try to understand Poseidon by studying some of his Hellenic aspects in conjunction with his Egyptian, Celtic, and Chinese aspects, you may end up with a jumble that does not properly represent him.

This is not to say that you should ignore other religions and their history, this would be a mistake, it is that when contemplating an aspect of a deity it is important to try to understand not only that aspect, but how that aspect interacts with the rest of the religion in which it exists.

I mean, what if you read the story of the battle between Athena and Poseidon for control of the Athenian Acropolis and left out Athena? Would the story make as much sense?

So, an eternal being is a force that encompasses all of the many aspects representing it which we are capable of experiencing, but which different cultures see, yet interpret, in different ways, ways that are relevant only within the context that spawns them. Poseidon becomes irrelevant to Shinto, where Susano-O no Mikoto behaves in different ways, yet ways that we might find familiar at times because it is still the same essential spirit, the same eternal being.

To be continued...

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