BOOKS

And Man Created God

Author: Selina O'Grady

Rating: 3.0 / 5.0

In 2013, I purchased And Man Created God amid a wave of the rebirth of a rationalist, athiest wave of thinkers coming to the fore. In retrospect, this movement is commonly called New Atheism. Around that time, Christopher Hitchens published God is not Great; Sam Harris, The End of Faith; and Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion. Amid this shift in honest discussion of anti-theism, atheism, and belief, I was curious as to when and why theism became a core part of mankind’s lifestyle. Why posit this thing that so clearly lacks evidence? Whence this desire?

This books does not answer those questions. Indeed, they might not have any answers that can be reliably extracted from the historical record. Rather, the book performs an inventory on the characters and propositions of religions near the beginning of the common era (AD, if you’re old school) and what happens to them around the time of the rise of Christianity.

In the time covered, religions had reached a stunning level of vibrancy and diversity: god-kings of Africa, an organized Greco-Roman pantheon, the sons and daughters of jealous Yahweh, the binary split of evil and good in Zoroastrianism, etc. By the end of this period, the widest-reaching religions that will spread to the most adherents have adopted a common character:

urbanist, universalist, personalized mystery religion appealing to supernatural agents of divine law on behalf of the humiliated.

Pauline Christianity embraces these “success criteria,” becomes more exportable and more “fit” in the Darwinian sense, and goes on to weld Christendom of the fallen Western Roman Empire and achieves footholds in far-flung locations. In this aspect of Darwinist “fitness,” the book recalls Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel. Pauline Christianity chose the mosst advantageous adaptations and profited thereby.

But Pauline Christianity did not innovate these success-fueling adaptations. Indeed many of the innovations of it were the key to other religions excelling in their local niche. It was the genius of Paul to recognize them, coopt them, and fuse them into the media juggernaut he built in the name of Jesus.

O’Grady’s presentation frequently suggests religion as another tool of statecraft, another means for a state steered by elites to coerce a melting pot hoi polloi into a people that can be steered to achieve the elite’s interests throught he machinery of the state. It’s a view Machiavelli would have recognized and it’s a hard thesis to resist. Nevertheless O’Grady certainly sees the use of religion in the life of the faithful and its utility in state-building. She never goes so far as to call the faithful foolish.

For the amount of material to the payoff of the thesis, the book felt like it could have used some trimming. Chapters on Confucianism, Indian subcontinental religions, the religion of Meroe bloated out the page count while not appreciably adding any additional insights to the Diamond / Machiavelli / Darwin thread of argument that was highly compelling.

Notes

{
  "title": "And Man Created God",
  "author": "Selina O'Grady",
  "highlightCount": 4,
  "noteCount": 41,
  "annotations": [
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "",
      "annotation": "Amid empires emerging (Roman, African, Chinese): \"How religion uses empires and how empire uses religion is the subject of this book.\"",
      "location": 6
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "",
      "annotation": "Around the turn of the AD/CE split, the world was full of gods",
      "location": 1
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "",
      "annotation": "Around the turn of the AD/CE split, ruling elites were riding on the back of religion ",
      "location": 1
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "",
      "annotation": "polytheism was the rule of the day, except for the Jews",
      "location": 2
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "",
      "annotation": "churn of gods was powered by the cities and rapid growth",
      "location": 2
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "lack of warfare and related wealth drains necessitated a means for asserting legitimacy undermining local-only (pagan: \"of the country\") gods",
      "annotation": "3",
      "location": 3
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "",
      "annotation": "Similar to post-plague England, the rise of a merchant class served to undermine the absolute rule of the monarch and gave way to needing new coercive but non-violent (monarchs love their tribute) means for control.",
      "location": 3
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "0AD, Rome is the largest city in the world",
      "annotation": "",
      "location": 3
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "",
      "annotation": "Rome is helmed by Augustus, Livia, Maecenas (elite, Etruscan) and Agrippa (plebian, Stoic)",
      "location": 10
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "",
      "annotation": "Aeneas represents the myth: self-possessed but also self-denying; balancing expansion with maintenance a shift in Roman virtus ",
      "location": 13
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "",
      "annotation": "Argument: 'republic' must yield to iron 'empire' in a diverse population; Religion is a tool for softer power",
      "location": 13
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "In the empire: \"the experience of being humbled was always with them.\"",
      "annotation": "",
      "location": 37
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "Standard Options: Stoicism (self-mastery) against Epicureanism whose retreat required considerable funds",
      "annotation": "",
      "location": 37
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "",
      "annotation": "New Options: Mystery cults (Bacchae, Isacism)",
      "location": 37
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "",
      "annotation": "Augustus as a cult to support and unify heterogeneous Empire with the personal appeal (pater patriae) of Augustus",
      "location": 37
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "Alexandria: Isis cares for her followers and their souls and a sense of belonging",
      "annotation": "",
      "location": 37
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "Devotees of the mystery religions...had to choose to belong...and inspired that much more loyalty as a result..defining quality of universalist religion",
      "annotation": "",
      "location": 75
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "",
      "annotation": "Place-bound gods (pagani) are dying off for universalist (urban) gods e.g. Isis",
      "location": 75
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "",
      "annotation": "In Meroe, Candace unifies goddess + kingship. This sets the stage for Augustus",
      "location": 75
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "",
      "annotation": "Roman military stumbles in Arabia. Feats of arms are not guaranteed for a glue.",
      "location": 75
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "Extreme Judaism in its zeal make accommodation with a god-emperor impossible. Therefore Judea would never sit well within the empire",
      "annotation": "",
      "location": 108
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "Machiavelli: force, colonization, co-option of the elites. Roman preferred the last but finds this impracticable in Judea",
      "annotation": "",
      "location": 108
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "Paul Veyne: \"Jealousy was Yaweh's first big religions invention\"",
      "annotation": "",
      "location": 112
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "Tacitus: \"worship of Yaweh was a novel form of worship opposed to all that is practiced by other men. The Egyptians worship many animals and images of monstrous form; the Jews have purely mental conceptions of the Deity. Yaweh was the most portable of all the gods, because he was the Word.\"",
      "annotation": "",
      "location": 114
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "Herod was too much of a Roman accomodator (collaborator, sell-out?)",
      "annotation": "",
      "location": 114
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "Sadducees: Formal, but elite-Greco-Judean Judaism",
      "annotation": "",
      "location": 114
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "Pharisees: \"more accessible interpretation of the law gained in popularity...obedience to the Law was possible for everyone\"",
      "annotation": "",
      "location": 124
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "Galilee was full of bandits and messiahs",
      "annotation": "",
      "location": 124
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "Mystery cults were big (e.g. Atagarsis)",
      "annotation": "",
      "location": 124
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "\"Christianity, which had followed in Isis' footsteps around the world, overtook her. Isis could withstand the assault of the Roman gods but she could not withstand the Christian God.\"",
      "annotation": "",
      "location": 162
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "Christianity might even be seen as the 'mystery cult of Yaweh': it would have the ...universalism,...their concentration on the individual, the relationship between the deity and her devotee...'",
      "annotation": "",
      "location": 163
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "highlight": "Unable to rule the city, unwilling to live in it, the Parthian rulers lacked the base from which they could impose themselves on their subjects....The Parthians...not credible as god-rulers - their grasp on the throne was too tenuous",
      "location": 176
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "highlight": "Zoroastrianism...enjoined on its followers the duty of being happy",
      "location": 179
    },
    {
      "type": "Highlight",
      "highlight": "Zoroastrianism was of no use to them in shoring up their kingship",
      "location": 180
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "",
      "annotation": "Appolonius could have been a messiah. Jesus was part of a general movement in the Greco-Judean world",
      "location": 180
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "",
      "annotation": "Brahmanism (proto-Hinduism) is local, exclusive and non-expansive; no help for Empire",
      "location": 180
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "",
      "annotation": "Brahmanism was a powerful recipe for social stability. But it was hardly likely to suite the beneficiaries of India's booming trade, whose new wealth did not match their caste status",
      "location": 198
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "",
      "annotation": "Jainism as well, not suitable for empire",
      "location": 198
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "",
      "annotation": "Theravada Buddhism also fails here: \"austere, atheistic religion, with no gods to pray to...\"",
      "location": 208
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "",
      "annotation": "Mahayana Buddhism parallels Pharaisees in that it was accessible and gave the people what they wanted",
      "location": 208
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "",
      "annotation": "Confucianism was suitable for civil servants but held nothing together. Usurpers, intrigues, etc. Wang Mang undoes Han empire but can't hold it together",
      "location": 208
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "",
      "annotation": "Lu Jia: \"The empire may have been won on horseback, but it could not be ruled on horseback.\" As ever, the scale of empire challenges administration.",
      "location": 208
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "",
      "annotation": "Chinese never worried about diversity or urbanism / merchants; all these things were despised against an agrarian ideal. Confucianism only held the bureaucrats' actions in check",
      "location": 208
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "highlight": "",
      "annotation": "In crisis, famers turned to personal, universalist gods e.g. The queen Mother of the West",
      "location": 254
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "annotation": "Juba, the client king: \"known as rex literatissimus,\" was the friend and protege of Strabo, and described by Plutarch as 'one of the most gifted rulers of his time.'",
      "location": "unknown"
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "annotation": "Final step of cult of Augustus: his death in 14AD. Thus he becomes a true god. This cult was obviously weaker than other cults.",
      "location": "unknown"
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "annotation": "Zealot Jesus of Nazareth preaches, antagonizes and is killed",
      "location": "unknown"
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "annotation": "Jesus preaches a mystery cult via himself on a universalist, downtrodden basis",
      "location": "unknown"
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "annotation": "Provides a means for a Judean and a Samaritan to be in proximity as necessitated by urbanism",
      "location": "unknown"
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "annotation": "Judas Iscariot (perhaps a member of the fanatical Sicariī) saw Jesus as a collaborator v. armed messiah",
      "location": "unknown"
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "annotation": "Paul universalizes the Jesus cult living in a politically fraught time",
      "location": "unknown"
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "annotation": "Himself a reconciliation between Hellenic and Judean societies",
      "location": "unknown"
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "annotation": "Begins personal revelation (i.e. mystery relationship) with Jesus as bar for religious salvation",
      "location": "unknown"
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "annotation": "Paul built on the Jews' monotheistic religion with its inbuilt advantages of commanding extreme loyalty and commitment, but transformed it from an ethnic-based exclusive religion into a universal one.",
      "location": 339
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "annotation": "Such a universalist message had an obvious appeal to the displaced peoples of the vast new multi-ethnic cities.",
      "location": 339
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "annotation": "Paul's Christianity appealed precisely, in fact, to those moving up in the world but whose status was not recognized by the rest of society.",
      "location": 345
    },
    {
      "type": "Note",
      "annotation": "Paul offered a poorer man's version of Stoicism, where the poor became glorified and charity was a virtue not an irrational act.",
      "location": 349
    }
  ]
}