The World-views of Early Civilizations
He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.
George Bernard Shaw
I MENTIONED, in the first of these posts, that spiritualities—the ways in which we go about being human—have three interrelated facets: worldview, values, and practice.
The first of these is worldview—the set of things any culture or subculture knows about the nature of the world we live in.
I use the word "knows" in a very special sense. It's a sort of cultural knowing, which doesn't automatically have anything to do with evidence, or proof. It's the kind of knowledge that a child has about Santa Claus, or that an adult has about freeways, or someone in the middle ages might have had about witches.
It includes superstitions and ordinary facts, the idea that water is wet, that the sun circles the earth, that dogs sometimes bite, that things are weightless in outer space because there's no air there, that liberals are elite snobs, that conservatives are stupid racists, that if you travel to a foreign country you will find air to breathe.
We "know" what the world is like, in this sense, whether we are right or wrong. Our worldview is the sum total of this "knowledge". It's the big picture of the world, which we use to make decisions and guide our behavior.
A child may go to bed early without a fight, in order to give Santa a chance to bring gifts on Christmas eve. If I need to clean a spot off my glasses, I may stick them under a faucet. You probably know people who will discount anything that a liberal (or a conservative) says. None of us is likely to think of taking an aqualung with us on a trip to Germany, unless we plan to go diving.
We don't know for sure what the world-view of the hunter gatherers who lived before civilization was, but it's very likely that it was an emerging world-view, in the sense that it emerged from their interaction with the world they lived in, and the nature of the brains they possessed. It included information about how fires worked, how to make pottery and music, cave drawings and spears, and how to work trades with neighboring bands. It probably included other things which we may never know.
We do know that sometime around the beginning of civilization, which is not that long ago compared to how long humans have been on earth, another kind of worldview was invented.
The earliest civilizations had a couple of things in common: a ruling class, and an organized religion. By the time we get close to the period of the Judeo-Christian Bible it's pretty clear that official world-views have developed.
These world-views are based, not on the interaction of individuals with their world, but on the political agendas of an upper class. They're designed to keep the common people in line and give the nation a unity which can be leveraged against its neighbors.
The general pattern involves a creation story, which explains that the entire known world is subject to the god of whichever nation is telling the story. The king of that nation is the representative of Marduk, or Yahweh, etc., and therefore must be obeyed.
The nation itself has a special relationship to this god, and therefore is superior to the surrounding nations. Consequently, any attack on this favored nation is an attack on the god of the universe, and any attack by the favored nation on a neighbor is simply a kind of liberation.
This kind of world-view lasted straight through the middle ages, and still exists, with minor modifications, today.
Believe it or not, there are still people in the United States, in the twenty-first century, who believe that a god like Marduk or Yahweh exists out there, somewhere, that the president of the United States is his ordained representative, and that when we go to war it is solely for the purpose of liberating the people in a foreign land.
But a more traditional world-view, one that harks back to our hunter-gatherer forbears, before they were enslaved by kings and priests, has continued to emerge through the same period.
To be continued...