- there’s a relationship between the ‘power’ of a god and how/why people believe in it (consider how greek myths are fairy tales now, but people kill over X today– what makes a religion decay?)
- why did people believe what they believe?
- what are the contexts that shaped those beliefs?
- how do the beliefs change when the contexts change?
- what do we believe now?
Being born into modern civilisation means beginning in the middle of a story, like a dream. night colors sound sugar supermarkets subways radio tv smartphones wifi bluetooth imax films snapchat emojis concerts festivals clubs sensory overload tinder supernormal stimuli.
return to a village. dusty dirt trails goats cows chickens dogs fish & meet sold in the open flies everywhere. blazing sun, dust in your eyes and mouth everywhere. the water isn’t clean enough to wash it off.
nature was the first god; the sun and the moon. in the absence of artificial light the moon is a gleaming orb of mystical beauty. soundtrack of insects and animals. sunrises and sunsets are spectacular. darkness is incredibly prohibitive. lightning is terrifying, literally AWEsome with a capital A.
Temples start to make sense in such a context. The promethean power of fire is easy to forget in modern contexts, modern life. It is at the heart of religious ceremonies (and barbecues). Light and color, music and spectacles. The moon would’ve actually affected people’s behaviour and lives back then. Modern loose corollary might be wifi and battery life. Power sockets. In a sense, these are our idols now– we beg and pray for them to bestow connectivity to us.
Electricity. Mud huts, attar huts, bricks, wells. My grandfather’s village lies on a point between the past and the present. The local temple is the village equivalent of times square. Massive chariot for people to carry the stone idols of their gods around the city.
(The bible was the first mainstream book).
Shops selling shoes and clothes are a huge deal. (McDonald’s was once a status symbol, kind of the way hipster cafes might be today…?)
Bollywood movies make much more sense once you’ve lived in an indian village. Colours and dance.
Constant smell of dust and dung, dingy drains and dirty dogs. Where would you start cleaning up? it isn’t dirty or disgusting to them, it’s simply how life is. And in a sense we are the paranoid ones, antiseptic and alien, fat from sugar, muscles atrophied, bodies bent over desks. Old indian ladies carry heavy loads on their spines, backs strong and taut.
Barefoot children playing in the streets. India is too big to be orderly at our present levels of technology, and in any realistically imaginable sense. (That said, tech evolves faster than the magic of our imaginations… so I’m not going to write off our imagination.) Orderliness is a sort of OCD-ish game that some of us play, that most people in the world actually don’t have time to bother with. Dodging goats and chickens on the way to work or school, hardly anybody wears a helmet. In the news, people are murdered and kidnapped and raped and horrible things happen all the time, such is the law of large numbers.
But technology has found its way into these spaces. It’s always tempting and easy to talk about these places as backwards and/or lacking, but they’re hackers. They improvise. They meddle and tinker and repair. They crowd around lights at night. Their vehicles often play music when reversing, and are colourfully decorated. Houses are painted in delightful shades of teal, pink, green and so on. Gold jewellery. WhatsApp on TV.
Kumar, 21, drives, climbs things. Knows his fruits and berries, knows a tailor, knows his town inside out. He is a master of his domain to a degree that I am not a master of mine; my spaces have been created for me to a much greater degree than his.
Food place– some are remarkably clean, workers are polite and attentive, dressed sharply.
Long dusty roads. I know there are intellectuals, rock musicians, poets, dancers, yogis, terrible things like rapists, yet mathematicians and rocket scientists and and ganja-smokin sadhus.
(Suddenly remembered the game Breath of fire– Gods get their power from people who believe in them. Wifi router as the modern altar).
Things get bigger, louder, shinier, more addictive than our old gods which now seem primitive and quaint in comparison. A comic book hero like superman can challenge and inspire us with the complexities of modern life, in a way that the ancient gods aren’t quite able to adopt to.
(add more about TV, HBO movies, radio, the experience of indian cinema)
What about the huge temples? Tirupathi’s Venkateswara, Rameswaram’s 24 Wells, Madurai’s Meenakshi (SO FUCKING EPIC. Makes the biggest temples in Singapore look like tiny shrines. Holy shit. Hundreds (thousands?!) of years old, 64 kings passing the baton from one to another. Elaborate systems emerge and assemble to manage throngs of people, funnelled along like electrons in a circuit, cells in a greater body, reverberating and echoing through the hallowed halls.
Our gods are a function of the loving, fearful attention we pay to them, and that in turn is a function of the technology and context that we are born into and operate in. No matter how hard I try to grasp for God, my search will never yield to me what God meant (and continues to mean) to villagers and xyz peeps.
In a sense, loosely sketching, we are the gods now. Or to be more precise, the relationship between man and “God” has changed, where “God” represents everything that man is not. Nature. Power. The infinite. The unknown. The sun and moon aren’t worshipped so much anymore these days, and Zeus and his lightning bolts are managed with an understanding of electromagnetism, conducting rods and so on. It’s telling– when do we fall to our knees and pray, in the modern world? When we’re confronted with immeasurable pain, sadness, grief, anguish. Suffering.
Gods have been forgotten and gods will continue to be forgotten, but as long as the infinite and unknown feature in our lives, gods will continue to be enshrined and lovingly tended to.