I am an Athenion (This is my religion)
Copyright 2010, John Manimas Medeiros
Naming my religion:
Throughout my lifetime of searching for an understanding of the human identity, and an effective way to share my true beliefs, I have until 2010 accepted the label of "free thinker" as being the most accurate identifier available. In November of 2010 I came to the conclusion that I am an Athenian. This word is the most accurate identifying name for the specific set of beliefs that comprise my understanding of the human identity and the place of the human species in the single universe -- both the physical and the spiritual universe. To distinguish a religious "Athenian" from a person who lives in the city of Athens, I would say that my religion is Athenianism. Further, if this word becomes widely accepted as the name of the religious teleology that I define here, then it may be wise to change the second "a" to "o" so that the religious identity I am claiming here can be spelled Athenion, and the resident of Athens can continue to be an Athenian.
I have not really ever thought that my goal or purpose was to invent a new religion. I have often felt that we already have too many, and I do not look kindly upon all of those who "invent" a new religion, because I perceive many of these religions as being neither "new" nor "religious." Therefore, I proceed here gingerly, without any illusion that I must be doing something good, or wise, or even helpful. New religions have been known to attract flies. So, I want to make it clear that my only purpose is to define my set of five beliefs and give that set of beliefs a name. What may follow is not necessarily a plan, or, if it is a plan, it will almost certainly go forward like a squirrel riding a Ferris wheel.
Here are the five principle beliefs of an Athenion:
1) I "worship" or recognize and respect the Goddess Athena. This is not intended to mean that I believe "God" is female. This means that I acknowledge the feminine in divinity and divinity in the feminine, and the equality of male and female as whole persons who are still more whole when the individual is both male and female in mind and spirit;
2) I believe that the ancient Greek creation myth, telling us that human history began when Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and gave it to humans, is the most accurate creation myth of all creation myths and is both spiritually and scientifically accurate;
3) I believe that we humans are technological animals, and that means we possess technology without understanding; we can do many things but we do so at our constant peril because of the unintended and destructive consequences that are caused by our primitive technologies that we apply without full understanding of all that we are causing when we act to control the natural life-supporting environment;
4) I believe that we have the capacity to become intelligent beings and that the sufficient distinction between technological animals and intelligent beings is that intelligent beings use technology with full understanding and thorough consideration of all the effects that result from their actions, and intelligent beings therefore do not produce any unintended consequences;
5) Whatever goals or purposes an intelligent being may have, they produce only their intended purpose without causing any unexpected or unintended consequences. The Gospel message, properly studied as factual scientific information rather than idealistic morality, is the best information we have that tells us who we are and what we are, and how we can successfully make the transition from technological animal to intelligent being: by becoming good stewards, because the evolutionary process applies to us as to all living things. The survival of the fittest, in the case of human beings, does not mean survival of the strongest. It means survival of the smartest. The many parables about good servants and bad servants, the problem of authority in human institutions (Matthew 23), and the standard of evaluation (Matthew 25 - nurture the vulnerable, liberate the strong) and the sermon on the mount or beatitudes, all direct us to the natural law that survival of the fittest means survival of the good steward.
What we are and can become:
We have constantly struggled with the question of what distinguishes us from other animals. What is the special trait, or what are the unique qualities that make us human and make other animals less than human? We have conducted fairly thorough examinations of language, communication, art, technology and even self-awareness or consciousness. Whenever our analytical tools improve, and as our skills at studying other animal species improve, we continually discover that they are smarter than we thought, do have language, do communicate, do have technology, and at times (in the case of primates, dolphins, dogs, parrots) they appear to have qualities that we were certain were only human, such as the capacity to make a joke, use a tool, play or sing. As we continue to explore animal life with greater dispassionate objectivity, we may discover that they stage plays for an audience, or contemplate the stars and their origins. It has been difficult, therefore, for us to nail down a clear and simple trait or quality that tells us with certainty that we have named the dividing line, the boundary between animal and human. My religious beliefs include exactly such a boundary that comprises a teleological concept -- both scientific and religious in form -- that states precisely what two traits divide us humans from the animals. They are:
1) The dawn of "Fire Monkey":
The first, that enables us to dominate all other animals and avoid subservience to them, is that we lost our fear of fire. Of course, when we lost our fear of fire, we immediately discovered how useful it could be. Our initial discovery was either that it could keep us warm or that it could frighten away even the most formidable predators or dangerous animals. There is no other predatory land animal that will move toward smoke or fire. Although, some insects and fish are attracted to light at night. I do not claim certainty as to whether the ancient hominid that had human potential first discovered the comfort of the heat or the weapon of the flame. Possibly both uses were perceived simultaneously -- tool and weapon. But, I contend that the history of our ancient ancestor -- who was or appeared to be nothing more than a smart monkey -- crossed the dividing line on that day when we no longer were afraid of fire. To this day, one can see that the human story follows a path accompanied by the technology of producing and managing fire: heating, generating power, the internal combustion engine, and all the weapons of war. Although we see ourselves as "advanced," the ultimate achievement in human weaponry is detonation of an atomic fire.
The calculating, learning observer:
2) The other trait, which I believe came into being gradually after we lost our fear of fire, was our capacity to count and measure. I must advise immediately that one be aware that measuring is counting. Any and all measurements made by human beings are in effect an execution of the very same mental process. In all measurements we establish a comparative and defined unit of measurement, and then we count those units. Every unit of measurement would have to be relatively small, certainly substantially smaller than the things that we would want to measure. Arithmetic would have its foundation in the simple operation of counting, of course, but the conception of fractions would come later. That means simply that a useful unit of length would be similar to the width of a finger, because that is useful for measuring all those things that are wider or longer than a finger. And, a useful measure of weight would be a stone or a pebble, or stable natural object, possibly the weight of a particular sea shell, in order to be useful for measuring -- or counting -- the weights of all those things that weigh more than a pebble, or more than a stone or a particular sea shell. I believe that after our ancestors started practicing counting and measuring, that all forms of technology grew out of our ability to count and measure, our sense of security, and the usefulness of fire. I am convinced that the process whereby arithmetic gradually evolves into mathematics and enhances all other human technologies originally grew out of trade and commerce. I strongly oppose any conception that human mathematics originally evolved as a means to make better weapons or construct dwellings. My perception is that even at the most primitive stages of human development, possibly before we built complex dwellings and before we made spear points, after we had the ability to count and measure, those human communities who were better at counting and measuring had a distinct advantage that would naturally increase their chances of surviving long enough to mate and complete the human process of raising self-sufficient offspring. This is the definition of a "survival trait," a skill or intellectual or emotional quality that enhances the species' ability to survive and successfully replicate another generation of mature and thriving individuals. To add some clarity to what I am talking about, note that even before elaborately planned agriculture, a human community that was better at counting fish, or weighing fish or grain or berries, or making any other kind of measurement of the quality of animal skins or bladders, or the strength of wooden shafts or of bone or wooden tools -- the ability to measure -- would have an ongoing advantage in all occurrences of trading. An advantage in trading means an advantage in the possession of food, clothing, tools. Clearly this spells out a survival trait. At all stages of cultural evolution, human societies improve their "wealth" and security by means of commerce and commerce is still an exercise in measurement and mathematics. From this logical construct I conclude, and believe, that the two traits that divide us from the animals are the two I have described here: loss of the fear of fire, and the ability to count and measure. Our ability to communicate is obviously complex, but I believe it evolved not before but alongside of our technological evolution, on the grounds that sophisticated language, language as subtle and complex and as sophisticated as ours, is not necessary unless accompanied by the evolution of technology. Note that every field of study or category of knowledge has its own "vocabulary." For the primitive humans as well as animals, concepts of "come" "go" "hot" "cold" "big" "small" "left" "right" "toward the sun" "away from the sun" "day" "night" "food" "good" "very good" "bad" "fast" "slow" "here" "there" and a few other concepts that can be communicated with gestures or grunts are sufficient. That is why most animals do not possess sophisticated language -- not because they are "primitive" but because animals do not evolve traits that are not necessary for their survival. Our technology was necessary for our survival. Without our technology and our communal "wolf pack" form of organization we are a rather vulnerable animal, likely to succumb to disease or any one of an enormous array of predators and parasites, when we are infants. We survived because of our social organization and because the adults can protect the children throughout their many years of "childhood." The reason we can be so well protected during the vulnerable years of our childhood is because of our technology and the sophisticated language that is a product of our technology. Carefully examined, it is reasonable to argue that language itself is a technology. Note that all of our forms of artifacts for coded language, other than natural voice (telephone, etc.), are called "communications technology." The technology and language grow out of our manipulation of fire and our ability to count and measure -- the manipulation of "quantity" or number. When we probe beneath the political proclamations that we are threatened by or called to enter into war, we invariably find that the causes of war are economic and commercial. We go to war in order to have access to the commerce that we instinctively, even sub-consciously, recognize as the key to possession of food, clothing and tools and the physical and emotional security they provide. Thus, war is caused by fear of insecurity, fear of loss of access to human needs. Observe that modern nations employ military force to protect their dignity and "interests" and not to conquer territory. Beneath the elaborate arts of legislative assemblies, treaties and international law lies the simmering of primitive instincts and fears. Yet war destroys public goods and public safety; therefore war is not a calculation but a miss-calculation. War is failure enclosed in the failure to acknowledge failure.
This is the religion of an Athenion. Join up, if you wish. There is nothing to sign, no prescribed rituals other than your chosen way to honor Nature as the Mother of All Things. Celebrations that include the customs of the world's traditions are welcome. There are no new holy days of obligation, no dues, no prescribed worship services. The sacred places are your heart, mind and spirit, and those places that seem holy to you. Just go for a walk and bathe in the awesomeness of being alive, being able to start a fire, and counting the units of time from the beginning to the end of your walk, or anything else you would like to measure. Does an Athenion believe in God? God is like light. Many sources come from all directions, and they are reflected off you and come to me, and are reflected off me and go to you. They dance through the universe and this is God dancing and us dancing. One feels that we cannot grasp the light and hold it, but it is both within us and without us, and we are it. Our constant reaching for greater and deeper understanding is the consummate act of loving God. Your God is your gift to me, and my God is my gift to you. There is no end to defining God. So long as we are, we are defining our God. Blessings, John Manimas Medeiros (November 23, 2010)
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