Imagine a world a very long, long time ago…
For hundreds of thousands of years, humans roamed and journeyed to the outermost corners of the globe. These humans were called hunter-gatherers. They lived from whatever the earth gifted to them. They had to spend their whole lives searching, but they were mobile, and they could afford to travel and to wander. To some degree, this made them very resilient. But living out of your suitcase also enforces pretty hard limits on how much you can grow and acquire and scale.
Then 12,000 years ago, our ancestors invented farming. For the first time humans were able to stay put. They found a way to coax nature into providing them with the gifts they desired most, reliable food. And in turn, they could spend more of their lives and energy building permanent dwellings.
This all seems like a monumental leap of progress.
From one perspective, this united and integrated humans with the earth in a beautifully intricate way. This new connection with the soil itself, a kind of agricultural midwifery, was almost… spiritual.
And when things went well, it went really well. Communal farming meant tribes and communities could grow far beyond what was conceivable before. But on the flip side, when disaster struck, it could be catastrophic. And this happened. And it happened a lot.
In fact, it hasn’t really ever stopped happening.
It turns out nature is rather unreliable. One season you might get a flood, another season a drought, or a plague of locusts, or your crops might suffer from an unknown disease.
In a primordial world, what do you do with this? Why would something that appears as eternal and limitless as the natural world, be so temperamental? The most logical conclusion must be that the gods are angry. Or more specifically, that humans made them angry. Human beings are rather proficient in mass producing conflict of every imaginable flavour and variety.
It doesn’t take a lot of introspection or humility for any group of humans to realize that they will probably never live up to the standards of the gods’ limitless perfection.
The next question then becomes: What exactly is required to seek the forgiveness of the gods, and possibly even elicit their blessing of favour. And when the survival of your crops, and your own existence, depends on the happiness of the gods, a tribe can become motivated to solve this riddle with no expenses spared.
Consequently, sacrificial systems were invented in more or less every religion in the world. And honestly, who can blame any of our patriarchs for any of this? It really makes sense. You sacrifice some of our crops and livestock, in turn, the gods become happy and they protect your crops and your livestock. This also opens the door for another new political arrangement between humans and the gods.
With the right sacrifice any conceivable dimension of human activity can be improved, whether childbirth or tribal warfare.
But there is a really really dark side to ascribing this type of causality between nature and the benevolence of the gods. No matter how many sacrifices humans made, nature seemed to remain rather cruelly unreliable. And this snowball effect could mean only one thing, the gods are still angry and thus require even greater sacrifice.
How exactly did this impact the evolution of religion?
This gave birth to Separation Theology. And separation theology can be found as a cornerstone in just about every world religion. As the millennia ticked by, this theme was developed with unstoppable passion.
How exactly were humans separated from the gods in the first place?
What will it take to be finally reconciled with God once again?
What role does each religion play on the world stage in relation towards people of other religions?
Will this separation ever be resolved, and if so when?
How do you avoid separation in the afterlife?
It doesn’t take much to see how separation theology can quickly monopolize the vast majority of religious energy, time and focus.
But now we live in the 21st century. We know a lot more about the natural world. We understand that nature lives by its own set of natural laws. A drought or a flood is not the anger or the ill will of the gods. From a fatalistic point of view, it just is what it is. From a causality point of view, if anyone is having a nefarious effect on the natural world, it is us. (But that is a different story).
But this brings us back to our most primordial understanding of God. Does it really still make sense to believe that God is angry? That we are separated? That we were ever separated? That an intervention was or is required to reconnect us?
It is just so easy to divide life into a dualistic reality: Where God in his perfect goodness and holiness exists on one plane and everything evil lives on a totally separate plane. And god forbid, these planes are never to touch, lest we pollute the holiness of God. Since we as humans are definitely not perfectly holy, we must live on the evil side of the train tracks. If we have any hope of experiencing God’s presence of closeness, an unfathomable amount of miracles, interventions, and spiritual gymnastics needs to occur to somehow magically allow God in his ultimate holiness to be united to us.
But what if this is not how reality or God works. What if we are inseparably united to God and others? What if nothing can ever separate us from God or others?
Just to be clear, in no way is this condoning our propensity for selfishness, or the ensuing hell on earth that can unfold from that. Without a doubt our selfishness frustrates, hurts and wounds one another and God.
But what if that doesn’t separate us from God? What if God can in fact be present with us in the time of our greatest darkness and imploding selfishness? Isn’t that exactly the time that we need the transformation of the divine the most?
So often our understanding of spiritual transformation is conditional on first being reunited with God, and making sure God is no longer angry with us. But what if we got it all wrong.
What if we first need to realize profoundly deeply that we are forever one with God. Does that not lead to much greater transformation?
We are one with God. We are one with one another. We are one with nature. We can live with care and compassion towards one another and the earth. Not in order to win God’s acceptance. But because we have always had it. And when nature acts with temperamental tantrums, we don’t have to conclude that God is angry.