God: a skeptic's guide in dialogue form (ii).

Day Two. Among the ruins of the Karnak temple complex, Egypt.

Protagonists: as before.

Johannes: What fine buildings the ancient Egyptians erected! How remarkable too, that they have weathered the tumults of the ages and remain standing still. How many of our own buildings will still be here, thousands of years hence. Precious few, I fancy.

Petrus: The buildings indeed impose. But I never liked much Egypt of old.

J: Surely theirs was one of the great civilizations?

P: It is not one I could care for. They built many monuments, but, as here, they were erected to a fantasy; their shapeless pantheon, stolen as war booty from those they conquered. And their cruel religion led them to scant care for life, and a dreadful lingering on death. What riches they wasted in their tombs! This is the true fruit of religion, a turning away from life towards the shimmering mirage of what might come after. How I rejoice we are now free of such foolishness.

Beda: The Egyptians were not obsessed with death, but with life. We know them only through their graves and other necropoleis. This must colour our view. And who can blame them for taking care to bless their dead with the joys they knew in life? Burial of the dead was the first sign of the awakening of humankind. Would you that they threw them into the Nile?

P: (angrily) Look, we come now to the precinct of Muntu, warmonger of the gods. Not thousands, but tens of thousands indeed were slain! Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum - how right wise Lucretius was!

B: (sadly) We are such tribal creatures. Look at our cousins the chimpanzees, who, too, seek each other out for slaughter, ambushing where they can. Yet they worship no god. Different tribes have different religions, it is true, but that is surely not why they hate and fear each other. Surely our studies of our long-evolving lineage has taught us this: that men fight for food, and land, and women. Indeed, it is amongst the least urbanized and least complex societies that such death is at its highest. The tale told of men organized under religion to do evil is wrong; it was with the rise of civilization and its rituals that our primitive murderous impulses were first brought under rein.

J: Yet there is surely the closest connection between the gods and war.

B: Indeed so, and many of those who seek to exert their will claim the gods fight for them. But why choose just this explanation, when we know how much of what we do is driven by our past; the desperate fight for survival amongst the parched lands that made us fight off all comers? We justify our acts with all the tools within our reach. But to do so does not compel us to assent.

We were born, not just from war, but from the darkness of ambush in the night, the raid, the rape, and infanticide. This is where our dead have fallen most, not in the grand spectacles of shining soldiers marching forward, carrying the holy banner of a god before them!

P: Without the gods our bitter fights, even if fuelled by our ancient and just struggle for life, would be softened, and a rational temper would prevail.

B: A wise man rules the stars. It is only in breaking free from our slaughtering instincts that we show ourselves as rational. It was Akhetaton the prophet of the one Sun-God who was the first pacifist, he who turned back the hordes of war. And then the followers of the Buddha, who denounced all violence. There could be not even been any hope for peace before religion: only the hopeless long blind struggle in the night.

J: You speak well: but I fear my friend Petrus will not easily assent to such a bold assertion!

P: I shall not. Indeed, I reject it.

J: But now we must once more bring our discussions to a close. Let us meet another day, and let us move from troubled ancient Africa. We still must talk of the soul too: that hangs still with us from before. Let us bring that topic forward with all our capabilities.

B: With all pleasure.

End of the second day.


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