Beyond Now

Column by Rev. Gretta Vosper on 1 June 2023 0 Comments

If you’re on a quest for the afterlife, you’ve plenty of options. Heaven, Nirvana, Paradise; She'ol, Limbo, Purgatory; Jahannam, Hell, the Chinvat Bridge to Darkness.

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At what point in the evolution of human beings did humans start to believe in God?


Thanks, Neal, for the probing question.  The honest answer to your question is nobody knows.  My guess is that human beings began to believe in God around the time we evolved to become self-conscious creatures, somewhere around 100,000 to 250,000 years ago.  The passing of this boundary from consciousness to self-consciousness was momentous.  Imagine being able to suddenly imagine our own mortality, that we weren't going to live forever!</p>

According to Freud, human beings had an hysterical reaction to this evolving reality.  This hysteria gave way to the anxiety that continues to define our human situation today.  In order to deal with the fundamental anxiety and the "shock" of our finite existence, Freud believed human beings created a parental, theistic God, up in the heavens - up there, out there, over there.  We did this, according to Freud, for protection.  In addition to protecting us, this God would guide us, counsel us, even punish us when we needed a stern hand.  This God, stated Freud, was a total projection of human beings.  About this, I think Freud pretty much got it right.

So, over the centuries, human beings created all kinds of gods, gave them all kinds of names, and attributed to them all kinds of powers, consistent with our needs, anxieties, and fears.  However, over the passing centuries, as science and learning progressed, these gods of our early years gave way to conceptions of God that are more adequate to our modern times.

Indeed, the challenge of our time is to lay to rest the God of supernatural theism (the God of theism, same thing), the God in the sky, the God who is external to the universe and independent of human beings.  This is the God who, from above, orchestrates our lives here on planet earth, intervening only at a time of God's own choosing.  There are huge problems with this antiquated conception of God, not the least of which is the problem of human suffering.

 In conclusion, Neal, I would say that one of the challenges of our times - indeed the challenge of every generation - is to continue to work at developing conceptions of God that are adequate to our contemporary world.

~ Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Frantz




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