Idols with a Human Face

In primeval times it was customary for folks to impute natural phenomena that impacted on their daily lives but they could not comprehend, on capricious deities. Hence the many gods of rain, drought, plenty, famine, health, illness, life, death, and combinations thereof of ancient mythologies. And to render their gods accessible, so they could readily be swayed, bribed, flattered, manipulated, held accountable, and even cursed, believers would endow them with human attributes, casting them as superior yet flawed images of themselves.

And as societies became more sophisticated, the whole gamut of human and social behavior—kindness, cruelty, generosity, greed, licentiousness love, hate, peace, was likewise imputed to anthropomorphized deities. And the custom did not end with the advent of monotheism. Consider how the omniscient, inscrutable Creator of the Universe was cast in the Old Testament as a crotchety father figure. Nor did the deities of old fade away. They merely took on new guises, as evident by the host of virgins and saints of Catholicism.

The suppression of religious anthropomorphism on science and reason is well documented. Only after the truth became too clear to ignore, only after centuries of censorship, banishments, threats and punitive measures of the cruelest kind, did the official proxies of the anthropomorphized Diety and subdeities of the Roman Church allow that the Earth did, indeed, revolve around the sun, and circulated through human and animal bodies, as Galileo and Harvey proved.

But the great advances of modern science notwithstanding, the folly of anthropomorphism persists, not only in religion, but in secular institutions as well. Take, for instance, a major corporation, General Electric, say. Though the folks who work for GE are real humans, GE itself is an artificial, non-human entity. Like its employees and managers, GE can conduct business, own property, sue and be sued in a court of law, but, unlike them, it cannot love, pity, feel joy or sadness, be morally good or bad any more than it can have sex and procreate.

Yet, even the most intelligent of employees tend to regard the organization that provides them with a livelihood as a caring parent and themselves as the organization’s children. And even more irrational is the devotion of those who sever ties with family, friends, neighbors and with their own humanity for the sake of some anthropomorphized ideal. Fields throughout the world are littered with the bones of patriots and martyrs who in their in the prime of life died fighting against others of their ilk who happened to be in the thrall of a different ideal.

Maybe if they had been less inclined to anthropomorphize most would have lived in peace to a ripe old age. Or maybe the conviction that their group or nation loved them unconditionally, made their dying young worth the sacrifice, an end far more rewarding than living a long peaceful life. Maybe we Homo Sapiens are not the rational creatures we say think we are.

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