Evolution, Creationism, and Other Modern Myths: A Critical Inquiry

I watched a show from NOVA about the battle between Intelligent Design and Evolution. Evolution won, which is good.  We really don’t want to go back to the dark ages as far as science goes. Creation Science isn’t science. But at the same time, the battle between Evolution and Creationism always troubles me, a bit.  We always want stories about how we originated, but what if we’re looking at it all wrong? Many Buddhists, for instance, don’t have a problem with Evolution. If we are evolving, we might as well affect that evolution as beneficially as possible. But I have also heard many Buddhists claim that evolution is still just a story we tell ourselves about ourselves. That’s not to say they believe in Intelligent Design, but simply that we are only viewing the surface of our existence when we talk about Evolution.

I have long been a proponent of Evolution and first came across the idea that Evolution is a modern myth in a Shambhala Sun magazine. I don’t remember wrote the article now. I wish I had kept it because it was another one of those punches in the stomach. The author of the article wasn’t trying to discredit Evolution, he/she was simply trying to put evolution into perspective.

There are certain levels where science and rationalism are absolutely spot on. But there are other levels that science and rationalism cannot claim. These levels are not irrational, they are transrational.

I’ve had a book by Vine Deloria Jr. for years and finally got around to reading it after watching the NOVA film:  Evolution, Creationism, and Other Modern Myths. He has a knack for busting American prejudices and I think he may be right that the current battle between Creationism and Evolution exists because of something most of us have failed to notice:  both are based on the exact same cultural bias.

I think this is exactly what Nietzsche was calling our attention to over 150 years ago. The Western notion of an abstract God/Reality is dead, yet no one has noticed!   Not the fundamentalist theist nor the atheistic scientist. Both are still stuck in the same mindset that was handed down to us through medieval Christianity and that mindset no longer serves us!  Deloria says the following set of absolute beliefs have been uncritically accepted by science and that they have reistricted our intellectual horizons for over a century:

  • Monogenesis – the idea that all life must come from one source, held to be a creator in religion, determined to be an arbitrary, unseen process in science.
  • Time as real and linear – derived from Christian theology and uncritically accepted by science as the uniformitarian, homogenous passage of time.
  • Binary thinking – derived from Aristotlean logic (either/or) and Christian missionary zeal (“those not for us are against us”)
  • Stability of the solar system – nothing has changed in our solar system since god created it or produced our sun.
  • Homogeneity and interchangeability of individuals – we allege to believe that all atoms and particles are the same, and that all humans are equal – derived from Christian theology and Greek philosophy.  (Read any popular article on science today, and you will find these assumptions taken for granted – without the slightest hint that perhaps they are mistaken.)

Deloria goes on to say, “It may be possible to formulate a new understanding of the world that is not Darwinian, but to do so we must move from these pointless confrontations and let the data speak for itself. We already have a massive amount of data on how things act. Do we need to have a story on how they became what they are? Deep down, since we have no way of knowing, could we not simply admit that the question itself is impossible and invalid?…Do we need a beginning to make sense of the world?”

That is an excellent question. It is only Western society that insists we have a beginning to our story. When the Evolutionists are asked about a beginning on the witness stand, they claim they aren’t interested in the beginning, only about how things have changed. Deloria claims this is a bogus claim. The entire premise of Evolution requires a beginning and a linear progression of time.

The Ancient Greeks don’t claim a beginning. Their story is one of constant creation – societies coming into and going out of being. Perhaps there is a sort of evolution going on, but there isn’t an end. Once we finally make it to the golden age, we are destined to make our way through the darker ages again. That’s Nietzsche’s three stages (camel, lion, child).  The stages never actually begin nor do they conclude. It’s an ongoing process of becoming.

Deloria says we need to ask ourselves: “What is the nature of our ability to understand the natural world?”  He sites three levels (which reminds me of how Huston Smith has dealt with this subject).  At the micro level, Western science has had the most spectacular success.  This is all of the stuff that is smaller than us – the atoms, DNA, RNA, etc.  At the micro level,  scientific formulas work because we have so much control over the data. The macro level comprises everything larger than us: space, weather patterns, continental plates. This is the opposite of the subatomic level because, unlike the micro level, we have no control over the data we are observing and have to accept what it is the universe gives us.

At both levels, time and space have little meaning.  They are just handy mathematical devices we use to describe what is otherwise completely meaningless to us. It is the meso level that is the most difficult to comprehend. This is the level where everything is “man-sized” and where the critical element is participation. Participation necessarily alters experimentation and Deloria says we should  honestly admit that we have virtually no objectivity at the meso level because our participation in the experiment alters the outcome. Everything we say or think about the meso level is therefore subject to cultural blinders. We should not assume science has the same success on the meso level as it does on the micro and macro levels. That science refuses to recognize its blinders at this level has made it the reigning religion of today. Its basis is belief, not unbiased empirical data.

Heisenberg warned: “When we speak of the picture of nature in the exact science of our age, we do not mean a picture so much as a picture of our relationship with nature.  We have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning.”  Deloria says that much of what passes for scientific certainty is simply the personal belief that entities exist because they help explain mathematical equations. And what we Westerners call religions in other cultures (Buddhism, Shinto, Native American spirituality) is often far more empirically based and less biased than is Western science. We Westerners, on the other hand, were converted to monotheism by force and coercion which required a manipulation of belief and we have yet to let that manipulated belief go – even within science.

It’s a very interesting argument!

Out of Ireland

I was inspired to watch Out of Ireland after having watching the two films on the Celts. It’s about the Irish Emigration to America.

A good portion of my heritage is Irish. On my mother’s side, my aunt has done a lot of research which links us right back to Ireland. My father’s family comes out of Ireland in part, too, although he had always considered himself to be Scottish. Both sides of the family had claimed they were Scotch Irish and I think my mother had always thought of this as being Scottish until my aunt’s research.

What I learned from the film was that the Scotch-Irish were Irish protestants who were persecuted by the Irish Catholics so immigrated to Scotland. Ethnically, they are Irish, but many who came to the U.S. preferred to think of themselves as Scottish. The Scotch-Irish had made their way to the U.S. prior to the large Irish Emigration that came after the Potato Famine and they made a deliberate distinction of themselves as Scottish to separate themselves from the poor Irish that were viewed by the American culture in an extremely negative light.

I had no idea how ill-treated the Irish had been in America!! They came to America downtrodden, starving, and impoverished hoping to find a better life. But many felt that life in the U.S. was even worse than what they came from (which had been absolutely horrific – many were enslaved in Ireland and some had even been sent to the U.S. as slaves!!)

I am so glad I watched this DVD.

Sex and the Celts

The sexual images and moaning and groaning in Sex and the Celts were terribly irritating and didn’t fit at all because watching the film was like being in a boring classroom rather than experiencing an engaging documentary. It did have a lot of great information, so notes…

A theory: In hunter gatherer societies, children were nursed with very little supplementation until the age of 5. The act of nursing serves as a sort of natural birth control so children were fairly well spread out. But, once the clay pot was invented, things could be boiled and supplementation for the young was much easier to come by. As soon as this occurred, it was easier for women to have their babies closer together. The clay pot marked the move from the hunter gatherer society to the agrarian society. And with women having children closer together, they began to view sex more as a job than as something pleasurable.

The goddess became extremely important during the shift from hunting-gathering societies (which typically worshipped animals as gods) to the agrarian society. The rise of the goddess may have actually been the origination of the decline of the female. A common ritual was for a King to copulate with a hag who would later turn out to be a territorial goddess. This copulation legitimized the king as a sacred king and was said to bring about the fruitfulness of the land. If the land is fruitful, the women get pregnant, the corn grows, there are fish in the sea, etc. This all comes about through the copulation of the king with the territorial goddess. If he is the wrong king, then there will be famine, enemy attacks, and death.

The societies that existed prior to the neolithic period were characterized by sexual and gender equality. This use of the goddess in agrarian societies was the first step to the control and dominate of women. It likewise provided a means for the control and exploitation of the land which could be mined and controlled without consequence or respect. The goddess is associated with the reverential worship of the earth, but the earth is now viewed differently than it was in hunter gatherer societies. It is now OK for the earth to be “raped”.

With the introduction of the Bronze Age came the introduction of the phallic symbol. This was a pull away from the feminine symbol and was accompanied by an increase in violence and warfare. It may have come about from the reproductive changes that the new stone age had ushered in. Pulling children away and weening them abruptly from the mother is one of the signs of a warlike society. These people are more interested in bloodlines and lineage and therefore obsessed with paternity. Raiding and combat becomes a normal way of life. The status of women becomes perceived as beneath that of males and a child’s paternity is considered a vital issue.

But even with this diminished status, Celtic women owned property, had the right to bare arms, became Druids, and engaged in politics. They could also divorce their husband’s for a variety of reasons including failure to satisfy them sexually. The union between the sacred King and the territorial Goddess remained the central myth that fueled the spiritual and political consciousness of the society. It’s not just a human king ruling benevolently – the union gives him god-like status.

In early Celtic tradition, the earth mother goddess engaged in the sexual union with king after king and it was said she always had a man in waiting. This may have represented a pre-Celtic social order where women retained a high degree of sexual autonomy. In later Celtic literature, the earth mother goddess is transformed into an evil, manipulative queen who uses men to satisfy her lusts and to do her bidding.

The popular Celtic man-God, Cuchulainn, gains his power by being able to resist the seductive magic of women and sublimates his sexual energies into superhuman acts of heroism. The earth mother goddess sends her daughter to seduce Cuchalainn, but he impales her on a pillar of stone. He is a sexual misfit and sexually ambivalent. He sleeps with women, but his greatest affection is for men and usually the sexual encounters involved three men rather than two.

It is possible that men began to fear what they thought of as magical powers that women possessed. Birth is only necessary because there is death and it is women who bring birth about. In the Christian era, the Goddess as Hag was still celebrated during Halloween but was no longer considered part of the great cycle of birth and death. In fact, she was presented as the barren winter. She is made out to be angry, ugly and in need of an aspiring King for her well-being. (In pre-Christian times, it was the king who was in need of the hag who became the beautiful territorial Goddess of fertility.)

Mysogynistic Christianity brought with it a radical new way of viewing the relationship between man and woman. In the early Irish Church, women were said to be the gateway to Hell and there was literature written by a Irish monks that said it would be better to kill women than to live with them. St. Patrick likewise did not have patience with wayward women. Legend has it he crushed one under the wheels of his chariot because he didn’t want to see her commit a sin. Patrick’s church was so anti-sexual that several church patriarchs even condemned marriage as a sinful way of life.

Holiness was equated with pain rather than with pleasure. The greater the pain, the holier the hermit and the greater the reward in heaven. The documentary goes through tale after horrible tale of hatred toward women written by Irish monks.

The Catholic Handbook for Penitents originated in Ireland and then spread to the rest of Europe. This was the book that told priests how to define and punish sins. 40% of the text is about sex. If people were to stick to the rules that were assigned in the handbook, people could only have sex 2 times a week. In old Irish, masturbation was called a hand festival. But when the monks came along, they created penitential practice for 9 different types of masturbation!

The more monasticism expanded in Ireland, the less purist and more pagan Catholicism became. It also absorbed the pagan sexual outlook that it had tried so hard to suppress. Married priests became the norm. Women were also powerful figures as an attempt was made to replace the Celtic Druidesses with women like Saint Brigid. The transition from a religion that paired gods with goddesses to a monotheistic religion that was entirely male was an extremely difficult transition.

In the 1100s, however, the king of Ireland had an important Abbess raped. This would have been equivalent to raping the British Queen. And at the same time, religious orders were sent to Ireland to insure papal supremacy and to get marital laws under control. (Divorce, concubinage, etc. was allowed in Ireland at the time.) Henry II invaded Ireland and Ireland was brought under the control of Rome however sexuality remained lax by papal standards. There is the story from a cistercian monk about how his fellow monks watched nuns bathing naked in a lake and then brought them back to their monastery to “pray in a very unchristian like manner”. The Norman conquistadors who had been sent to bring Ireland under papal power also ended up mixing paganism and Christianity and became as Irish as the Irish. Some of the Norman chiefs were reported as having as many as 27 sons which most definitely were not begotten by the same woman.

When protestant England came into being and sought to gain control of Ireland, it did so by closing it’s monasteries. There were long period of fighting and starvation in Ireland during this time period. In 1641 Ireland had a population around 1.5 million. A decade later, it had been reduced by two-thirds. The remaining Irish were abused and enslaved by the protestant settlers. Many were transported to England and America as slaves and women became the sexual playthings of their masters and were sometimes mated with African slaves. Any offspring also became slaves. Many Irish women not enslaved became prostitutes and unwilling mistresses. The streets became a sexual nightmare for women. They were often ripped from the protection of their husbands and raped by the soldiers who were supposed to be protecting them.

In the Victorian period, sexuality outside of marriage was condemned but brothels thrived. Pornography was common and often graphic. Many diseases were invented (like nocturnal emissions) in order to discourage sex and terrible appliances were created to prevent the spread of these made up diseases. There were terrible devices invented to prevent masturbation, too. If an erection occurred during the night, one such invention would provide an electric shock. The Gothic world came into being as a reaction to that which could not be discussed in the polite society of the Victorian world. Western Ireland, however, was much freer sexually and the position of women was also much freer.

In the 1800s, the Potato Famine spread across Ireland and reduced it’s population by 2.5 million in 5 years. The communities that were entirely dependent upon the potato were completely destroyed. People fled Ireland to the United States. An estimated 50,000 Irish prostitutes worked the streets of New York and abandoned Irish kids were numerous as well.

The famine was presented by the Catholic Church as God’s way of purifying Ireland. This view created the militant puritanical views that were present in Ireland for the next 1 1/2 centuries. The numbers of priests and nuns grew to that of industrial proportions. Every family was to provide at least one son or daughter to the nuns, priests or brothers. By 1911, the ratio of priests to Catholics was 1 to 210. By 1926, 1 in 50 single males (age 45 to 54) were priests or monks. Thanks to the extreme sexual suppression established by the Church, the Irish population fell from 8.2 to 4.3 million making the Irish birthrate the lowest in the world. The people had been demoralized by the Potato famine so were more willing to be molded by the Catholic clergy. Ireland became highly puritanistic and grew even more so over time.

Contact between the sexes was limited. Men married late if at all. In the 1930s, 3/4s of 25-45 year old men remained single which produced a huge increase in admission to mental hospitals. Women were considered to be the source of all temptation but the moral guardians of the families. Sinners were called upon to do penance by providing labor to the Catholic Church. People sometimes provided unpaid labor for their entire lives as repayment for their sins. Girls who were raped, illigitmate, or orphaned, or even so pretty as to be a danger to their souls, were forced to work for the Immaculate Sisters, sometimes for their entire lives. They were enslaved and beaten by the nuns and as late as the 1970s, were subject to horrible sexual abuse.

Today’s Irish culture is far more sexually open but as of the time of this documentary (the DVD came out in 2005, but I think it is from a much older Video), the Irish society was still facing massive problems pertaining to sexual abuse – especially sexual abuse in the home. Church and State still used every means at their disposal to cover up problems to make Ireland more respectable to the rest of the world. Child abuse is a massive problem.

The Celts (cont.)

Just a few more notes on the Celts from the BBC series.

Celtic art was a way of communicating the incommunicable. Most other cultures had a literary tradition. The Celts did have a form of writing but they believed that writing down their myths would destroy them. They would be static rather than living. In a way, this proved to be true because one of the things conquering people do to their enemies is destroy all of their literature. Since the Celts had an oral tradition, their stories have survived far longer than almost any other tradition. People to this day hold the title of storyteller and are passing on the tradition. (Although it looks as though television may have finally destroyed the tradition.)

Most traditions have both the visual and literary traditions, but because the Celts didn’t have a literary tradition, their art tends to be far more imaginative than other cultures, too. They used decorative means to convey ideas. And as a culture, they were exhibitionists. They tattooed their skin, died their hair and their clothing was excessively colorful and artistic. Their stories had the same sort of decorated images within them.

Often, the stories are told in song. It is said that most of the oral traditions were created because the Irish wanted to dance. There were also working songs which I wish we had today. It would be so nice to get together with people to do the mundane everyday chores (like laundry) while singing in time to the work with others!

The problem with modernizing the Celtic myth is that it does away with all of the dark questions in favor of the more romantic which keeps it from fully capturing the original depth. But there was much romance in Celtic tradition. In fact, the entire notion of Romantic love that we think of having been creating through the Arthurian Legend was derived from Celtic tradition. Chivalry was a Celtic invention.

There is a danger in trying to reconstruct the Celtic tradition for the sake of romanticism and wishful thinking. It can’t be recreated – all you get is an illusion. Likewise, the quest for ultimate origins is deceptive and what typically happens is that the Celtic heritage gets manipulated into nothing more than a souvenir for tourists.

What we do know is that morality in Celt legends is shocking. It’s an advanced form of morality. Clearly, much of the immorality that we think of when we think of Celts comes from Roman image making. For instance, the Romans turned the Irish drinking into legend but the Irish did not drink any more than any other culture. The 20th century used this drinking legend to explain away their own alcoholism. But what is likely more true is that drinking becomes more extreme in cultures and individuals that have been heavily suppressed.

We also know the Celts valued freedom of movement. They were determined to be real people rather than a bureaucracy like Roman society. What is most unique about the Celts was their philosophy. For the Celts, two opposing facts could be equally right. A conclusion can be arrived at from any number of directions. To the Anglo-Saxon and the classical mind, this might seem ambivalent, but it isn’t. There is a sense of freedom in this way of thinking. A sense of adventure which says the world isn’t all black and white – it is full of possibility.

Celtic Religion

I’m about halfway through the BBC series, The Celts and have notes on the episode about religion. 

700 BCE – is the first first tangible date for the existence of the Celts (in Hallstat, Austria). It also looks like genetically, Welsh and Irish Celts are linked to the Basques which go all the way back to the stone ages.

I had always thought of the Celts as a barbaric people in the primitive sense. But according to the film, this was a title assigned by the Roman’s to all people who lived outside of the Roman culture and Roman domination. The term “barbaric" was not used in the way we typically use it today. The Celts were no more barbaric than the Roman’s, based on our terminology. The only reason it seems so is because the Roman’s were better image makers. The Celts were not literate, but this did not mean they weren’t intelligent. They had a long-standing oral tradition, they were incredibly imaginative, and they had a successful economy. They were opportunistic, highly organized, and had a multi-structured society. Based on the artifacts discovered from their culture, they were also quite wealthy. They also had a highly developed religion.

The Celts built shrines to venerate the head (of the body) because they believed the head was the seat of the soul. They believed the head still had potency even when severed from the body, so they decapitated the heads of their enemies and ate the brains believing this destroyed its power. This sounds gruesome (barbaric), but it is somewhat comparable to the cross in Christianity. As is the cross to Christianity, the severed head is to Druidism, the Pagan Celtic religion.  

The Druid was the priest, the shaman, the visionary and it was his job to keep things right with the gods. The more mysterious and arcane his practices, the more powerful he became. We often think of the Druids far differently than what they actually were. The Druid was the profound interpreter of his religion and he had to train for many years in order to practice as a priest. He was a fundamental part of the Celtic system.

There were three predominant characteristics in Druidism:

  1. Philosophy based on observation of nature.
  2. Religion of sacrifice, mystery, and divination.
  3. Tended toward monotheism even though druidism included secondary deities – those spirits connected with the forces of nature.

The lives of the Celts were infused with mythology and their religion. Religion and life were completely intermingled. The Celts thought of the afterlife as a continuation of their present life but better. The entrance to a cave was thought to be the entrance to the otherworld so was often used in sacred rituals. The cave represents a duality in the Celtic psyche: a belief in imagination – that things are and can be what you make of them. The otherworld was a place of music, happiness, nirvana – where people were free of suffering.

There were many gods. One of the most well-known and powerful gods was Lugh who had tremendous physical abilities that were transferred to his grandson, Cuchulainn. Cuchulainn was a man god and miracle worker. When Christianity came to the Celts, it had many of the characteristics of Celtic paganism. It had ritual, legend, rites, rules and holy men to practice them. It had at it’s center, a miracle worker who was the son of a God. It offered a code for living and an afterlife and was rooted in ancient beliefs. It was brought to the Celts by very effective missionaries.

Because Christian philosophy and Celtic pagan mythology had much in common, there was a sort of merging. Many of the pagan myths were written down and acknowledged by Christian monks. By writing down the Celtic legends, the monks were searching for the roots of belief, they were organizing morality (or at least the expression of it) because the stories were primarily about moral standards, and they were legitimizing the mythologies and freezing them, putting them on display, which is a way to end them – written mythologies are essentially no longer living. They were also treating the myths as legend so that Christianity could now provide answers. Stories were built to explain the disintegration of old Pagan beliefs into the new Christian belief.

Celtic Christianity ushered in a golden age of Celtic artists who worked in the service of a new God. The art of the past was worked into current art and although the gods of the old world were mostly forgotten over time, the Christian missionaries didn’t completely succeed in eradicating paganism. Some of the more enduring pagan practices, especially those having to do with fertility rites and crops, were still being practiced almost into the 1800s in Ireland. And many practices that are touted as Christian originated with the Celtic pagan mythologies. The two merged quite nicely together.

Chief Seattle’s Speech

The fourth episode of The Power of Myth begins with Joseph Campbell reading Chief Seattle’s speech. But, it wasn’t Chief Seattle’s speech! It was a version created by Dr. Ted Perry (from Texas) for an ecological documentary in the 1970s. Ted Perry’s message is one of universal brotherhood but this is far different than Chief Seattle’s actual message which was about the vast gulf between his people and the Europeans. Chief Seattle believed his people were going to be completely wiped out by the Europeans and it is very unlikely he ever said anything about the “web of life”.

I’m very surprised Campbell would have used Dr. Perry’s version. The reason people like Perry’s version is because it upholds the fantasy that if we just returned to the attitudes of the past, all would be OK. Many environmentalists believe this is true and like to point to how their thinking is exactly like that of Native people by pointing to Perry’s speech, using it as though it were the authentic speech of Chief Seattle. (Maybe this is part of the problem Wilber has with Campbell?)

This is what was originally published in the Seattle Sunday Star on October 29, 1887 by Dr. Henry A. Smith. He said it was the best he could do based on the notes he had and was written 30 years after the speech was given. Chief Seattle never learned English so it is also the translation of a translation. But it is much closer to what Chief Seattle actually said than the version Joseph Campbell used:

     Yonder sky that has wept tears of compassion upon my people for centuries untold, and which to us appears changeless and eternal, may change. Today is fair. Tomorrow it may be overcast with clouds. My words are like the stars that never change. Whatever Seattle says, the great chief at Washington can rely upon with as much certainty as he can upon the return of the sun or the seasons. The white chief says that Big Chief at Washington sends us greetings of friendship and goodwill. This is kind of him for we know he has little need of our friendship in return. His people are many. They are like the grass that covers vast prairies. My people are few. They resemble the scattering trees of a storm-swept plain. The great, and I presume — good, White Chief sends us word that he wishes to buy our land but is willing to allow us enough to live comfortably. This indeed appears just, even generous, for the Red Man no longer has rights that he need respect, and the offer may be wise, also, as we are no longer in need of an extensive country.

     There was a time when our people covered the land as the waves of a wind-ruffled sea cover its shell-paved floor, but that time long since passed away with the greatness of tribes that are now but a mournful memory. I will not dwell on, nor mourn over, our untimely decay, nor reproach my paleface brothers with hastening it, as we too may have been somewhat to blame.

     Youth is impulsive. When our young men grow angry at some real or imaginary wrong, and disfigure their faces with black paint, it denotes that their hearts are black, and that they are often cruel and relentless, and our old men and old women are unable to restrain them. Thus it has ever been. Thus it was when the white man began to push our forefathers ever westward. But let us hope that the hostilities between us may never return. We would have everything to lose and nothing to gain. Revenge by young men is considered gain, even at the cost of their own lives, but old men who stay at home in times of war, and mothers who have sons to lose, know better.

     Our good father in Washington–for I presume he is now our father as well as yours, since King George has moved his boundaries further north–our great and good father, I say, sends us word that if we do as he desires he will protect us. His brave warriors will be to us a bristling wall of strength, and his wonderful ships of war will fill our harbors, so that our ancient enemies far to the northward — the Haidas and Tsimshians — will cease to frighten our women, children, and old men. Then in reality he will be our father and we his children. But can that ever be? Your God is not our God! Your God loves your people and hates mine! He folds his strong protecting arms lovingly about the paleface and leads him by the hand as a father leads an infant son. But, He has forsaken His Red children, if they really are His. Our God, the Great Spirit, seems also to have forsaken us. Your God makes your people wax stronger every day. Soon they will fill all the land. Our people are ebbing away like a rapidly receding tide that will never return. The white man’s God cannot love our people or He would protect them. They seem to be orphans who can look nowhere for help. How then can we be brothers? How can your God become our God and renew our prosperity and awaken in us dreams of returning greatness? If we have a common Heavenly Father He must be partial, for He came to His paleface children. We never saw Him. He gave you laws but had no word for His red children whose teeming multitudes once filled this vast continent as stars fill the firmament. No; we are two distinct races with separate origins and separate destinies. There is little in common between us.

     To us the ashes of our ancestors are sacred and their resting place is hallowed ground. You wander far from the graves of your ancestors and seemingly without regret. Your religion was written upon tablets of stone by the iron finger of your God so that you could not forget. The Red Man could never comprehend or remember it. Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors — the dreams of our old men, given them in solemn hours of the night by the Great Spirit; and the visions of our sachems, and is written in the hearts of our people.

     Your dead cease to love you and the land of their nativity as soon as they pass the portals of the tomb and wander away beyond the stars. They are soon forgotten and never return. Our dead never forget this beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its verdant valleys, its murmuring rivers, its magnificent mountains, sequestered vales and verdant lined lakes and bays, and ever yearn in tender fond affection over the lonely hearted living, and often return from the happy hunting ground to visit, guide, console, and comfort them.

     Day and night cannot dwell together. The Red Man has ever fled the approach of the White Man, as the morning mist flees before the morning sun. However, your proposition seems fair and I think that my people will accept it and will retire to the reservation you offer them. Then we will dwell apart in peace, for the words of the Great White Chief seem to be the words of nature speaking to my people out of dense darkness.

     It matters little where we pass the remnant of our days. They will not be many. The Indian’s night promises to be dark. Not a single star of hope hovers above his horizon. Sad-voiced winds moan in the distance. Grim fate seems to be on the Red Man’s trail, and wherever he will hear the approaching footsteps of his fell destroyer and prepare stolidly to meet his doom, as does the wounded doe that hears the approaching footsteps of the hunter.

     A few more moons, a few more winters, and not one of the descendants of the mighty hosts that once moved over this broad land or lived in happy homes, protected by the Great Spirit, will remain to mourn over the graves of a people once more powerful and hopeful than yours. But why should I mourn at the untimely fate of my people? Tribe follows tribe, and nation follows nation, like the waves of the sea. It is the order of nature, and regret is useless. Your time of decay may be distant, but it will surely come, for even the White Man whose God walked and talked with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all. We will see.

     We will ponder your proposition and when we decide we will let you know. But should we accept it, I here and now make this condition that we will not be denied the privilege without molestation of visiting at any time the tombs of our ancestors, friends, and children. Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove, has been hallowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished. Even the rocks, which seem to be dumb and dead as the swelter in the sun along the silent shore, thrill with memories of stirring events connected with the lives of my people, and the very dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to their footsteps than yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch. Our departed braves, fond mothers, glad, happy hearted maidens, and even the little children who lived here and rejoiced here for a brief season, will love these somber solitudes and at eventide they greet shadowy returning spirits. And when the last Red Man shall have perished, and the memory of my tribe shall have become a myth among the White Men, these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe, and when your children’s children think themselves alone in the field, the store, the shop, upon the highway, or in the silence of the pathless woods, they will not be alone. In all the earth there is no place dedicated to solitude. At night when the streets of your cities and villages are silent and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled them and still love this beautiful land. The White Man will never be alone.

     Let him be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are not powerless. Dead, did I say? There is no death, only a change of worlds.

Lost Civilizations

While I was looking for stuff on the Chinese Revolution, I also came across Time Life’s series on Lost Civilizations. This was another absolutely gripping series. There are 10 programs, almost 1 hour each on different civilizations that have been lost over time. They start with the most ancient and move toward the more recent: Mesopotamia – Return to Eden, Ancient Egypt – Quest for Immortality, Aegean – Legacy of Atlantis, Greece – A Moment of Excellence, China – Dynasties of Power, Rome – The Ultimate Empire, The Maya – the Blood of the Kings, The Inca – Secrets of the Ancestors, Africa – A History Denied, Tibet – The End of Time.

I took a few notes – primarily on Tibet because of my recent interests…

On Tibet:

Tibet was the very last surviving major ancient civilization and is currently a diaspora on the brink of extinction. In the 7th century, the Tibetans were feared conquerors, their methods being not unlike those used by Ghengis Khan. After 1000 years of military might, Tibet decided to demilitarize. This is the only civilization ever known to voluntarily give up it’s military might so it is absolutely remarkable from a historical standpoint. Most tend to go the other direction and strengthen their military might. By the end of the 17th century, Tibet had given up it’s fortresses for monasteries and violence was replaced with spiritual wisdom. A peaceful, self-sufficient society emerged dedicated to the pursuit of non-violence and it existed this way for 800 years.

It’s a very interesting experiment for a country to say “I do it for the other”. Tibet maintained it’s independence by trading spiritual blessings with China. But when Mao Zedong gained rule, religion came to be seen as a superstition and the Tibetan society was viewed as one that was in need of education. In 1949, China invaded Tibet. In 1959, the Dalai Lama fled to India. He was only 23 years old.

100,000 Tibetans follows the Dalai Lama to Tibet, but 1.2 million more died. This was a Holocaust, not unlike what happened to the Jews. But like it took quite a while for the details of the fate of the Jews to emerge after WWII, we don’t yet have the details of what happened to the Tibetans and don’t yet know the full extent of the carnage. Some of the survivors have horrible stories – of terrible torture: being suspended upside down, having their legs imprisoned in casts for years, being so hungry they were tempted to eat their own excrement. Many of these Tibetans have been imprisoned all of their lives, being arrested when they were young and only released when they were elderly.

The Tibetans remain in India, not having access to their land. The Dalai Lama believes that there is still hope for their survival, if they can somehow negotiate some sort of self-rule with China. But if they cannot obtain this, then their society will become extinct, leaving no surviving ancient civilizations on earth.

I have just a few notes on the other shows:

On Mesopotamia:

1. Ten Commandments: The Ten Commandments come from Hammurabi’s Code? 1200 years before the Israelites had been taken captive, Hammurabi was a Babylonian king who had a stone inscribed with laws that bare his name. This stone emerged in the late 19th century. This Babylonian code is the precursor to the laws we find in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

2. Noah’s Ark: In 1852, Nineveh was discovered in Northern Iraq. This was an Assyrian civilization and contained the Library of Nineveh in which the Epic of Gilgamesh was discovered. This story predates the Bible by 2000 years and contains within it, a story of a man building a boat that is exactly like the story of Noah in Genesis. The major cities of Sumer were Uruk, Ur (said to be the birthplace of Abraham) and Eridu. The Sumerians invented the wheel, gardening, government and were the first civilization on earth to invent the 60 second minute. And most significantly, they wrote things down – they invented Cuneiform. According to this documentary, they are considered to be the first civilization to ever exist. 

3. Garden of Eden: Part of the Epic of Gilgamesh contains a story of a Garden of paradise, complete with a serpent. Archaeologists now think the myth was based upon an actual place – the Island of Bahrain which would have seemed like paradise compared to the surrounding areas. They have found embalmed remains of people and serpents – embalmed serpents are everywhere on the island of Bahrain.

On Egypt:

All I have written down is the discovery of the Rosetta Stone by Napoleon. This was a signficant discovery because there was a Greek translation under the Egyptian Cuneiform which finally allowed experts to break the code of the Egyptian writing. One of my favorite Catholic priests claimed that this proved that Moses did not actually exist – that his story was based upon an accumulation of stories that can be found in the Egyptian libraries. He said that Moses and Abraham were symbols for groups of nomadic tribes – not actual individuals. Many archaeologists concur with this, since absolutely nothing can be found on Abraham or Moses, but similar stories about other people abound.

On Greece:

Athens was a boys club and women were nothing. This tends to continue to be true in most of Greece.

Socrates was accused of not believing in the gods and was said to corrupt the minds of the youth. His trial and conviction would not have happened under Pericles who ruled during the city’s Golden Age. Socrates embodies Athens at it’s best.

On the Maya:

I think the most interesting thing about this show was one of the experts claiming that the decline of the Mayan civilization is not particularly mysterious or significant. What is significant is that a civilization like the Mayan civilization could be maintained for 2000 years.

The civilization was completely reliant upon a system. In order to survive, the people had to believe in the power of the King. When the people no longer had faith in the King, the civilization collapsed. As more and more people lost faith in their ruler, they left the cities.

The Mayan civilization was a bloody one. The King and Queen had to give blood in exchange for immortality. They would pierce their tongues and their genitals which caused tremendous bleeding, and offer this blood to the gods in great ceremonies. As they kingdoms began to falter, rather than increase military might, they created even more fearful ritualistic blood sacrifices, which of course, did not save their civilization.

It was very easy for the Mayans to accept Jesus because they were already so heavily into blood sacrifice. The idea of a King sacrificing himself for the people and becoming immortal made perfect sense to them. So they embraced Christianity without a qualm.

An interesting note: the Mayan calendar is among the most accurate ever developed and it abruptly ends in 2012. The Tibetans believe we are entering an Apocalyptic age, and some scientists claim we are in for a reversal in our magnetic field. This reversal has occurred at fairly regular intervals during the history of the earth. Could it be the Mayan’s calendar ends with the estimated reversal?