Part of the series God: From Magic to Motivation
A local minister I know called me a “religious sniper” some time ago. He was referring to my style of picking off religious topics from the vantage point of my website - never really know where I am or where the fire is coming from, or what the target may be.
His comment was meant in light-hearted jest, I believe. Although I appreciate it and take it as a compliment, I don’t think I have the accuracy or precision to be a sniper. Snipers do tend to play a part in urban warfare, but that’s not how I see things right now. War is not a solution. It’s a marketing strategy.
And war is getting really old and making things really fragile. City life depends on trust, enormous amounts of trust. Our entire foundation can still be upturned by a few confident authorities with silver tongues, or individuals motivated by the merest whims.
I think of myself more as waving a shotgun around, hoping I might hit the broad side of some ancient barn. I’m worried about those mischievous, ephemeral spirits of the night, and I’m intent on, metaphorically, keeping them away from my daughter’s bedroom.
However, I’ve come to realize that either choice of weaponry, sniper rifle or shotgun, is actually pretty poor. I have my criticisms of religion but I have to realize that whatever its faults, it’s part of the world’s inheritance right now. It is a part of the house we live in. It may not be the foundation of the house that’s the problem. The problem is (almost always) people’s motivations, or the things that people think should be worshipped.
My intention was never to bring down the pyramid anyway, and any kind of personal firearm would only jeopardize the safety of the people within the building. Regardless of what you shoot at it, a pyramid continues. A pyramid isn’t that fragile and not so easy to deconstruct. Time fears the pyramids more than any god.
Here’s the lesson I’ve been thinking about when it comes to pyramids. It comes in part from Uxmal in Mexico. The lesson is about constructive persistence.
Uxmal is a city of the ancient Maya. The name can be translated as “Built-three-times”. The most dominant architectural part of the city is The House of the Magician, a temple at the top of a pyramid, the newest built on top of the old. The leader of the city built on what he had inherited, just as the last leader did. The leaders come and go. The pyramid lingers.
One intriguing feature of many of the Mayan pyramids is that even though each generation of builders wanted to add something, the older temples often enough remained visible and accessible. The builders rarely destroyed the old pyramid; they built around them and on top of them to make the structure bigger, often with a wider base and higher top.
When we reach new heights, we don’t destroy the old pyramids we’re standing on. We build bigger ones on top.
It doesn’t mean the new temple has to look like the old one, or that it even does the same job as the old one. But the past won’t go away just because someone finds a flaw in the engineering. Those old pyramids of power made it through the past despite being inconsistent, fragile, downright wrong in some places, or in bad need of repair.
We can borrow from all the cultures and aesthetics of the world now, but by doing so we are confirming the pyramids of the past and building on old foundations, making the whole thing more complicated. Whatever steps it takes to build the new and better pyramids, we’ll need to take into account all the new information that is available too.
New pyramids can’t be built from magic, but they can’t be built by firing bullets at them either.
If our future is to remain in the city, then our personal motivations have to be laid bare all the more. The things that have implications for our behaviour will make such strange bedfellows. We can’t let the ancient motivations rule us with authority anymore. The view from those old temples is too low, too limited. Our motivations demand an even higher point of view.
One thing that does help me sleep easier at night is the thought that pyramids were often enough built as tombs. Pyramids, like cities, are places where gods go to die.
If the whole world is to embrace one big culture, and if everyone is adding to one big pyramid, it might be big enough to lay to rest the most sanctified of our motivations.
[I'll let you have fun with what that might be.]
What do you think?
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Uxmal – Wikipedia
History of Religious Criticism – from rationalevolution.net, a thorough, sometimes thick, outline that starts with the Protestant Reformation and ending with a neat graphic of the 50 most non-religious countries in the world today.