Religion’s roots reflect the land
April 18, 2010 by Bill
The pantheon of any particular group is directly related to the type of land and landscape they live with. An agricultural society has gods and goddesses for sun, rain, storms and the like. And above all for fertility. A rich, lush land gives rise to nymphs, satyrs and spirits of woods and water. The Northwest Indians lived in giant rain forests, dark, dreary and foreboding. Their world of spirits and religious mythology was all directly related to the landscape.
To those whose landscape was the Southwest, a Papago said it best: “we desert people have no rivers. All our water is in the sky.”
Taoism harmonizes beautifully with the landscape of much of China with mountains and mist, waterfalls and rich vegetation. The austere God of Judaism, Islam and Christianity came from the austerity of a bleak desert and a Moslem mosque is a stylized oasis.
There were different landscapes with different conditions for the Neanderthal theologian, Buddhist theologian, Hebrew theologian and Greek theologian. Greek temples were built on hills overlooking the Mediterranean. The Greeks had a sense of nature, and the temples blended beautifully into the landscape.
From the landscape, religions come into being. To the Hebrews of the Old Testament, the austere desert spoke of an austere, stern God. And the God who put you there must be as stern as the land itself to inflict such upon you. And you dream: you dream of a paradise of lush gardens where there will be milk and honey, vineyards and fruit trees. There, you will create a God of love.
Religions of love are religions of the well fed.
How well the late General Douglas MacArthur realized this. In his famous address to the joint session of Congress upon his return from Korea, he said: “You cannot talk to people about idealistic philosophical concepts or principles until first you put food in their stomachs, clothing on their backs and a roof over their head.” Religions of love are religions of the well fed, when the crops are in and the stomach is full…then there is time to rest and meditate under the shade of an olive tree, and think about brotherhood.
It is interesting that the first Old Testament writer to present a God in relation to love is Hosea, a man who was ardently in love with the land. He wrote of domestic animals, agricultural life, of fruits, flowers and thistles, of wind and rain.
The landscape continues to influence our religious orientation. I have lost count of the times that people have said to me, ”I feel closer to God in the mountains, or by the ocean, than I do in any church building.” And I totally agree with them.
From the land and landscapes, religions and gods are born and later on transformed to be in harmony with the existing land and landscape of any given region.
The God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam had its origin in a desert.
The poet Walter Kaufmann wrote:
“Desert born God…sandstorm cradled…
Thine is burning, blistering justice…fiery darkness that blinds and destroys…
Trees that are kissing sand whirling ground…loving the storm that snaps the trunks…
I shall not bow to merciless glory…
Thine is the desert in which you are buried…
Thine is the darkness that was your mother…
Desert born God…sandstorm cradled…”