Eight Values of Ancient Civilizations
SPIRITUALITIES, THE WAYS IN WHICH we go about being human, are not only a matter of world-views, they also involve values, which are intimately connected with their world-views.
"The citizens of a top down culture must value Truth so much that they are willing to distort, deny, and twist any mere truth which contradicts it."
The world-view of the early civilizations was an authoritarian, or top-down, world-view, rooted in the idea that power, privilege, control, and even knowledge, flowed down from the priests and kings to the common people.
In order to maintain this world-view, those at the top had to find a way to teach, encourage, and enforce certain values.
The following list is probably not complete, but it will give an idea of the kinds of values the priest-king system rewarded.
You'll notice, as you read through the list, that many of these values are still part of our own culture.
The foundational value of any kingdom is inequality. A top-down culture cannot survive unless people learn to value the the king and the priests above common people.
They must come, not only to expect that the king will have more privileges, more power, and more possessions than they do, but to actually think of this as a good thing—something to be desired.
In most such cultures, this value doesn't apply to the king in isolation—it's a fundamental value of the entire nation. Everything is structured in a chain of being, which is valuable in itself.
The country's gods are valued above the king and high priest, the king and high priest are valued above the nobles and religious hierarchy, the nobles and religious hierarchy are valued above the common man, the common man is valued above his wife and slaves.
There are often even differences in the penalties exacted for crimes. Sometimes these are written into the law, and sometimes these are achieved with a wink and a nod. The king (or the mayor, or the rich man, or the boss) can get away with behavior that a lesser man would be punished severely for.
The value of respect goes hand in hand with the value of inequality. A culture that values some people more highly than others also will value the idea of respecting those above you.
The king must respect no one but the gods. The nobles must respect the king, and so on, down the line, to children respecting their parents.
Likewise, everyone in a top-down culture is expected to be loyal to those above them. A disloyal servant, or subject, or employee is recognized by all as an evil.
The loyalty, however, is not symmetric. The king may turn on a loyal advisor or neglect him. A man may cast off a loyal wife with impunity. A company may lay off an employee who has been loyal for a lifetime, just before she qualifies for retirement.
Likewise, obedience is valued under the king-priest system. This value takes many forms—obedience to parents, to employers, to the master, to husbands, to nobles, to gods, to the king—but in every case, the obeyer is lower on the hierarchy than the one who must be obeyed.
Disobedience is seen as a moral matter. This is so much so that often it will be punished even when it is clear that the command was mistaken, and the disobedience actually worked to the benefit of the master.
In such cultures customs, and even people, who are different are often felt to be dirty or disgusting. Even behaviors, such as eating certain foods, or shaking hands with a member of the opposite sex, can be seen as impure.
The value of purity, within a hierarchical society, can be used to control behavior, to punish those who don't conform, to create hatred and disgust aimed at minorities or political enemies of those in the hierarchy.
In a top-down culture, the value of care is a bottom-up value. It is expected that the maid will care for her lady, that the butler will care for his master, that the employee will care for the employer, that the lord will care for the king.
When it happens the other way, when the rich care for the poor, or the powerful for the powerless, it's seen as philanthropy, as charity, or as generosity—something above and beyond the call of duty.
Fairness, in a priest-king culture, is also asymmetric. Not only are the penalties for crimes different for the rich and the poor, but the very concept of fairness is often defined in terms of wealth or power.
It is unfair for the peasant to poach on the King's land, but the king's right to hunt on the peasant's land.
It is fair for the wealthy to pass on their wealth to their children who never earned it, and fair for the poor to pass on their poverty to their children, who also never earned it.
It is fair that the best medical attention should go to the privileged, because they can pay for it.
It is unfair for an employee to make personal calls on the job, but reasonable and fair for the owner to do the same thing.
Finally, the culture of priests and kings values Truth, with a capital T—by which I mean the Truth of orthodoxy: the idea that the most important ideas are true because someone higher up in the hierarchies of religion or government has pronounced that they are true.
It must, because much of its worldview is rooted in this kind of Truth. All of the values outlined above, all of the tenets of the king/priest worldview, are capital-T truths.
There is not a shred of evidence for any of them, there is no reason at all to embrace the values or accept the worldview, except that they are the official version of reality.
Consequently, capital-T truth is valued, must be valued, above ordinary, everyday truth. The citizens of a top down culture must value Truth so much that they are willing to distort, deny, and twist any mere truth which contradicts it.
If they don't, the whole edifice collapses.
As it seems to be doing, now.
These are the values of the spirituality-the way of being human-which was imposed on us during our 12,000 year detour.
Next time, the values of the emerging spirituality...