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RELIGION IN THE FIVE EPOCHS OF CIVILIZATION
Public values change in the course of history. These changing values reflect institutions that were dominant society at particular times. Each institution is associated with its own kind of valuable object. While economic and political functions are important, civilization is more concerned with the mental, cultural, or spiritual side of life. Here the softer elements of a culture work their way into peoples hearts. As an institution, religion comes closest to expressing this aspect of human experience. Therefore, this chapter will discuss the question: What, in a broad sense, is the religion of each civilization?
Religion speaks to the core of values which a society has. It often, but not always, includes worship of a God or gods. In his book An Historians Approach to Religion, Arnold Toynbee wrote: If we set out to make a survey of the religions that have been practiced at different times and places by the numerous human societies ... our first impression will be one of a bewildering infinite variety. Yet ... this apparent variety resolves itself into variations on mans worship or quest of no more than three objects or objectives: namely, (1) Nature, (2) Man himself, and (3) an Absolute Reality. By the worship of nature, Toynbee meant the ritualistic religions practiced by precivilized peoples. By worship of man himself, he meant the association of religion with political institutions, or with, he wrote, the worship of ones own collective human power. The worship of Absolute Reality referred to the higher religions which focused upon a transcendent spiritual being or God.
All three types of religion identified by Toynbee included worship of a God or gods. God brought human-like personality to the object of worship. Toynbees premise was that humanity worshiped what it most feared. When it stopped fearing an object, that object ceased to attract worship and religion moved on to something else that had not been tamed. Nature was worshiped when humanity was at natures mercy. With the arrival of agriculture, the food problem became less threatening than the problem of dealing with other human communities. Therefore, the object of worship shifted to political entities. The warring city-states worshiped local gods who symbolized their collective power. This epoch ended when the great political empires brought peace to a region. Human society then became less fearsome. It was time to worship lifes ultimate reality.
Toynbees three objects of worship - nature, mans own community, and ultimate reality - are associated with religions of the first three historical periods. However, the first period in this case would be prehistory. Nature worship was the religion of tribal societies that existed before the first civilization began. Toynbees second object of worship - human communities - would relate to the prevailing religion in the first historical epoch, when governments established civic religions. The third object of worship - absolute or ultimate reality - would correspond to ideas associated with philosophically based religions. They belong to the second historical epoch. Humanitys ultimate reality is approached through theoretical speculation. For many, it has led to the concept of a monotheistic God.
Toynbees analysis ends at this point, when religion appears to have been put into its final form. The third, fourth, and fifth epochs of world history lie ahead, seemingly without further religious progressions. Yet, religion, in a broad sense, has continued to develop beyond the stage of world religion.
Any successful religion achieves a balance between personality and belief. Belief comes first. This is what people think is literally true. It is the conclusions of learned persons, those grey-bearded doctors who are consulted on important matters. In Greek and Roman times, philosophy was on the cutting edge of belief. Philosophers had developed a method for discovering truth which allowed them, as Plato said, to separate true science from mere opinion. God is an infallible source of truth for religious persons. Modern society tends to believe more in the theories proposed by empirical scientists. The universe might have begun with a big bang. The human race might have evolved from other species of animal life through a process of natural selection. With respect to social phenomena, our society looks for sociologists or psychologists to supply believable answers. Someone who has an advanced degree from an accredited institution of higher learning is believed where the ordinary persons views can be taken with a grain of salt.
Many advancements in knowledge of the natural world have involved mathematics. Alfred North Whitehead has identified the period between Pythagoras and Plato (6th and 5th centuries B.C.) and the 17th and 18th centuries A.D. as times when mathematics penetrated the public consciousness to an unusual degree. The Greek philosophical revolution of the 6th and 5th centuries B.C. was inspired primarily by geometry. Pythagoras believed that the world consisted of numbers. Plato was impressed by the purely theoretical nature of mathematical reasoning. A sign hung over the gate of his Academy: Let no one enter here who is ignorant of mathematics. Algebraic equations, introduced by the Mslems, became widely used by European mathematicians during the 17th century. Newtons laws of physics were a set of equations describing force, velocity, and acceleration. Mathematical equations related to periodicity supported Keplers theories of planetary motion. Mathematics is a purely objective description of quantities or relationships in the natural world. It is the branch of knowledge most removed from human personality. Mathematicians tend, therefore, to be somewhat unsocialized.
knowledge has proven itself in dramatic ways. Centuries before Europeans
knew of the Western Hemisphere, Eratosthenes of Cyrene calculated the
earths diameter to within one percent of its actual size. Through
catapults and other mechanical devices, Archimedes held Roman armies
besieging Syracuse at bay for three years at Syracuse. Nuclear physicists
in the 20th century created a type of bomb so awesome that its explosion
over two Japanese cities forced Japans surrender in World War
II. This was belief as basic as anyone might wish it to be. Religion,
on the other hand, does not relate so well to the knowledge of mathematics
or of the physical world. Its type of belief is more personal. A critical
step in the creation of more sophisticated systems of religion is to
apply sciences that began with mathematics and the study of nature to
the realm of human behavior. That was Socrates role in the Greek
philosophical tradition. He turned the practice of inquiring about the
basic stuff of the world into questions about justice, goodness, and
truth. After natural science had made a name for itself in formulating
physical laws, the social sciences applied its method to
studying dynamics of the market place and the human psyche.
This leads to a contradiction.
On one hand, human beings are wanting primarily to know about themselves.
Religion latches on to beliefs reached by the most advanced methods
of acquiring knowledge. Christian theology made use of Platonic and
Aristotelian philosophies. The economic theories of Adam Smith and Karl
Marx and the psychological concepts of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung have
become the basis of quasi-religious ideologies. On the other hand, impersonal
laws of nature control events in the physical world. Hippocrates,
the father of western medicine, denied that the gods caused disease
or that its effective treatment consisted of rituals and prayers to
appease their anger. He looked for natural causes of disease and sought
treatments guided by his own experience with successful remedies. The
scientific method teaches that the scientist should make dispassionate
observations of nature and base his conclusions upon observed fact rather
than personal intuition. He should leave himself out of his theories
as much as possible and become a mere instrument of discovery.
Modern science has
tended to displace man from his place at the center of the universe.
Copernicus proposed that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the
solar system. Darwin saw human beings as a product of evolution from
lower species of plant and animal life. Scientists maintain that impersonal
laws of nature govern this world. Yet, if the most advanced systems
of belief arrive at a purely objective kind of knowledge, it poses a
problem for human civilizations. The great mass of humanity cannot accept
this type of culture; for man cannot live on ideas alone. While having
intellectual credibility, a culture consisting only of ideas is also
sterile and cold. This situation creates a spiritual crisis because
human beings cannot relate to the purely objective. They need models
A study was done at
the University of California at Santa Barbara which showed that most
people more easily solve a problem when it is cast in social terms than
when essentially the same problem is cloaked in abstract numbers and
symbols. In one experiment, they reworked a classic abstract logic puzzle
into new (social) scenarios ... for instance, subjects were asked to
imagine they were a bartender whose task was to make sure there was
no one at the bar who was underage ... Fewer than 25 percent of the
subjects got the problem right when it was put in terms of numbers and
symbols. But about 75 percent answered correctly when the subjects were
given the same problem cast in human terms. Authors of the study
speculated that the need for personal references in solving theoretical
problems illustrates the Stone Age intelligence passed along
in our genes.
Objective knowledge is based upon proper delineation of abstractions. One follows certain logical procedures to move between the abstract and the specific. Proper classification and processes of reasoning help to retrieve the desired information. Personality, on the other hand, gives people something to imitate. One copies a finished model without thinking. Imitation, which is the original basis of knowledge, comes before reasoning. The use of personal images in religion may be a learned response from childhood in coping with situations beyond ones ability to comprehend. As the child relies upon an adult parent to rescue him from dangerous situations, so the religious devotee cries out to God for help in troubled times. This is a complete and emotionally satisfying kind of response. Objective concepts, while demonstrably true, are less able to arouse the emotional side of intelligence. Therefore, no culture intending to touch a societys larger population can consist of this element alone. Philosophies cannot inspire that degree of personal interest and attachment; only religion can.
As religion changed through the ages, it took on the coloration of institutions that dominated the successive societies. A way to track those changes may be to review adaptations made to institutions of sacred space and time. When the Roman church planned Englands conversion to Christianity, Pope Gregory I issued orders to the effect that the temples of idols ... should on no account be destroyed. He (Augustine) is to destroy the idols, but the temples themselves are to be aspersed with holy water, altars set up, and relics enclosed in them ... In this way we hope that the people may abandon idolatry ... and resort to these places as before. Places sacred to pagan religions were thus converted to serve the needs of advancing Christianity. The Gospels tell the story of Jesus driving the moneychangers out of the Temple in Jerusalem. In this case, Jesus was able to prevent a place sacred to Judaism from being corrupted by the values of money. Now, in CivIII, bingo games operating out of church basements compromise that ideal somewhat.
The advancing epochs have also converted sacred time to new purposes. Jesus may have expelled moneychangers from the Temple, but that has not stopped the holiday which commemorates his birth from being turned into the years most intense shopping season. It is estimated that purchases of Christmas gifts contribute more than a third of an average U.S. retailers annual sales, and between half and three quarters of the annual profits. As the Christian holiday of Christmas has been shoved aside by commercial Christmases, so its Christmas once replaced holidays belonging to pagan civilization. (See this page.) The worshipers of Mithras, a Persian god popular among Roman soldiers, celebrated their gods birthday on December 25. The Roman holiday of Saturnalia, which began on December 17 and lasted for several days, was a festival honoring the god Saturn who had civilized the Italian people. Gift giving was a part of its tradition. In 440 A.D., the Christian church decided to celebrate the Feast of the Nativity at that time of year.
Whenever in the dim and distant past humanity has confronted impersonal phenomena, it has turned the incomprehensible whole into human forms. Primitive peoples have seen the elements of nature as old women, young hunters, great fathers, etc. The ancients divided the night skies into constellations bearing human and animal forms. Mans first attempt to understand patterns in nature was through mythological explanations. There were stories of struggle or intrigue between gods and goddesses whose outcome set patterns in the natural world. For example, the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone, celebrated annually at Eleusis, explains the changing seasons as a covenant which the Gods made with Saturn to keep the lovely Persephone at certain times of the year. So belief and personality were fused into a single structure of knowledge when man first began to try to understand nature.
It is misleading to suggest that primitive peoples believe in the divinity of nature. To believe is our religious posture. Primitive religion began with a fear of nature, not so much in the sense of believing it to be evil as of mans being thrown helplessly into a dangerous world. Man had to cope with the danger, and, as always, that was done with knowledge. Not knowing cause and effect, man projected his own mental outlook upon nature. Natural objects were thought to have personalities similar to his own. Events took place intentionally, as if human minds were directing them. This animistic view, which makes the natural world a mirror image of mans own subjective mind, is characteristic of primitive religion. The Moon, stars, and sky were gods endowed with a human spirit, as were other natural elements. They had different spheres of influence, and had to be appeased or approached individually to win their favor.
Gradually one set of gods became associated with the sky, and another set of gods with the earth. The sky gods tended to be male, and the earth gods female. The gods of the sky exuded masculine energy when the Sun poured out its radiant energy upon the world or when Zeus, the thunder-darter, hurled bolts of lightning down from his throne. The earth gods or goddesses, including trees and the earth itself, were more maternal and nurturing; they were a quiet source of natural bounty. So the gods became like a human family, with a father and mother, sons, daughters, and other relatives in various roles. The central theme of this religion was the mating of earth and sky, or, in other words, the showering of sky-brought rain upon the earth which would moisten the soil and let abundant crops grow.
Fertility was the central object of this religion. Fertility promised abundance, both in regard to producing numerous offspring and providing plentiful food. As these came from nature, nature became the target of religious pressure. The fertility cults of Egypt, India, and the Middle East included sexual rituals meant to suggest to nature what action should be taken. Animals thought to have sexual prowess, such as snakes and bulls, were worshiped with an eye to improved reproduction. Another religious concern was fertility of the fields. In medieval England, public marriages were performed on May Day or Pentecost to inspire the newly sown crops. In Java, peasant couples copulated in rice fields for the same reason.
Such rites illustrate the ancient practice of sympathetic magic. The theory was that gods, being like people, sometimes had to be shown what to do. To make nature more responsive to their wishes, men would imitate a certain natural process, or partially perform it, or act as if it had already happened. A barren woman would clutch a baby doll in hopes of becoming pregnant. A voodoo witch would stick pins in the wax figure of a person meant to die. That is why festivals of the harvest were commonly associated with sexual promiscuity. The earth was supposed to accept the scattering of seed and prepare for a bountiful crop. Sympathetic magic gave primitive religion its theory of effectiveness. The magician was thought to be able to tap into natures immense power by personal gifts or through devices such as amulets or fetishes that had special power. Another magical technique was the use of words in blessings or curses, or other verbal formulations, to cast a spell.
As agriculture became the basis of economic life, a professional priesthood presided over ceremonies intended to produce a successful crop. In order to be effective, these rituals had to be performed by someone with enough knowledge to perform the ceremony properly. The key to its effectiveness was thought to be correct execution. Organized religion became a technocracy of magic designed to manipulate or appease the spirits to achieve certain results in the natural world. Human sacrifice was often an element in ceremonies relating to the harvesting of crops. Sometimes human beings were ritually executed, and sometimes substitute objects such as sheep. Primitive peoples believed it was necessary to bury someone to fertilize the soil. The rites of human sacrifice became associated with the myth of gods who died and were reborn in imitation of grains which annually sprouted from plantings in the ground. The Egyptian cult of Osiris was one of many cults of vegetal regeneration foreshadowing the death and resurrection of Christ.
Religion has a sense of the sacred as distinct from the secular or profane. Originally there were sacred places thought to be inhabited by the gods. Priests kept up the shrines located on those sites. The people of Sumer built temples on sacred ground. There Greeks and Romans observed the cults of their local gods. In many Hindu homes, a room is reserved for the household deity, an image of Vishnu, who watches over and protects the family. Jacob built an altar at Beth-El to commemorate his dream of a ladder extending to heaven; he called that sacred place the house of God. With the advent of written history, the locus of the sacred shifted from space to time. The Jewish Sabbath is a day in the week reserved for religious worship. Festivals and holidays are times in the year devoted to particular divinities or saints. Also, the idea of a time when the whole world would suddenly be transformed at Gods direction grew up in Judaic expectations of the future.
It seems that the concept of an anthropomorphic or manlike God arrived relatively late in religious history. Totemic animals were earlier objects of worship. The selection of particular animals to serve as tribal emblems corresponds to our own use of symbols such as the design on flags to identify different communities. In primitive society, the particular animal which a tribe had adopted as its totem or spiritual emblem was considered taboo. People of the tribe were not allowed to eat its flesh except on rare ceremonial occasions. Afterwards, there was a period of transition when gods might be part human and part animal. The Egyptian sphinx is an example. Ovids Metamorphoses describes in hexameter verse the changing of animals into gods, and vice versa. The prophet Daniel dreamed of four political empires emblematically represented by animal hybrids followed by another which was ruled by one like a man. The first fully human gods may have been powerful men who had died but whose influence remained. Primitive peoples believed that the ghosts of such persons might return to haunt the living and had therefore to be appeased.
Festivals and holidays have been a part of human culture since prehistoric times. In the age of nature religion, special rituals were performed at the times of the summer or winter solstice and at the vernal or autumnal equinox. Christmas Day comes four days after the winter solstice. May Day was a pagan festival which celebrated the coming of spring. Halloween is related to an ancient Celtic festival which marked the beginning of the new year. (Both of these seasonal celebrations were converted into something else in a subsequent age. May Day became an international labor holiday because of a general strike held in the United States and Canada on May 1, 1886 and a bombing that occurred three days later in Chicago. Halloween is the vigil of All Saints Day, a Christian holiday commemorating a group of martyrs from Roman times. Gregory I moved its festival date from May 15 to October 31 to take advantage of the earlier pagan holiday.)
With the first civilization came a shift from nature worship to worship of the politically organized community. The gods of nature were converted into gods of parochial states. The states were not only political entities but also objects of worship. Each city had a deity which looked after the well being of its inhabitants. The local god was nominal master of the human community in whose stead the priest-king ruled. In Sumer, the ranking of a city depended upon the order which its god held in the divine assembly. Eridu was the holiest city because it had the shrine of the god which had created mankind. Shrines were located in the temple, which was also the hub of community life. There was usually a huge statue of the god in half-animal form and an altar to receive sacrifices. The statue was sometimes regarded as the image of the god, sometimes the god itself. A group of temple priests and priestesses, servants of the god, performed the sacrificial ceremonies. The priest-king was both the highest servant of the god and its personal representative.
In becoming identified with political institutions, the new order of religion had to contend with the prehistoric cults of nature worship. The two religious systems managed to coexist. In Egypt, wrote Toynbee, we find the worships of the Sun, the Corn, and the Nile surviving side by side with the self-worship of the cantons. In Sumer and Akkad we find the worship of Tammuz and Ishtar surviving side by side with the self-worship of the city-states. In China we find ... an annual agricultural ritual, in which the prince communes with Heaven and ploughs the first furrow of the new agricultural year, surviving side by side with the self-worship of the Contending States ... In this gradual, peaceful, and imperceptible religious revolution, the new religion has not only imposed itself on the old one; in many cases it has actually commandeered one of the old Nature gods to serve also as the representative of the new worship of parochial collective human power.
Toynbee gave examples of nature gods which had been appropriated by cities or tribes. He suggested, on the basis of the covenant delivered on Mt. Sinai, that Jehovah had been a volcano god or weather god before becoming the tribal war-god of Israel. Pallas Athena, Zeus daughter, was both a war god and patroness of olive cultivation before she became the personal guardian and spirit of the Athenian city-state. The supreme god of Egypt, Amun-Re, was a combination of Amun, the breath of life, sometimes portrayed as a ram, and Re, who was the sun god. Amun was the chief god of Thebes, capital of the Egyptian empire after the Eleventh Dynasty. Pharaoh was considered to be a living god, son of Re, begotten by immaculate conception.
Prior to the Fifth Dynasty, Pharaoh was a god in his own right, but the cult of Pharaonic worship clashed with the old nature-worshiping religion. A powerful priesthood at Res holy city of Heliopolis in northern Egypt had organized all the separate nature cults into a pantheon of nine nonhuman gods among whom Re, god of the sun, was chief. The designation of Pharaoh as son of Re, linking his divinity with Res, was therefore a concession to the Heliopolis priests and a sign of Pharaohs weakening power.
Conflict later developed between the political cult of Pharaonic sun-worship and a popular cult which worshiped Osiris, god of the Nile river and vegetation. As vegetal life annually dies and is reborn, so Osiris, murdered by an evil brother named Set, was brought back to life through the patient labors of his wife, Isis. The kingdom then was passed on to their son, Horus, represented by a falcon. Horus victory over Set was politically significant because his totemic representatives, the pharaohs of the First Dynasty who came from the southern part of the country, had conquered the northern Delta region where worship of Set was concentrated. The myth of Osiris also fed the cult of personal immortality centering upon Pharaohs funeral arrangements. After his death, Pharaoh was thought to have rejoined the gods and become associated with Osiris, lord of the underworld. Pharaoh himself survived in an embalmed body with a spirit kept alive by unceasing rituals and prayers. Pharaohs faithful subjects could themselves participate in the afterlife through his intercessions.
In Mesopotamia, the political rulers were generally content to rule as bailiffs of a god. Neither of the great kings, Lugalzaggasi and Sargon I, who unified this region in the 24th century B.C. claimed divinity himself, although Sargons grandson did. Egypt was unique in the degree that God was associated with a living man. This man, Pharaoh, was an archetype of God as a Great King. The temple became like a royal court where worshipers petitioned the god for favors. One trembled in his presence, bowed, and offered prayers. If a catastrophe befell the kingdom, it was thought that the king had offended its god in some way. The fortunes of humanity were dependent upon pleasing the gods by means of proper rituals. While earthly kings ruled by divine authority, the deities themselves were understood in terms of the majestic personalities of kings. So gods shed their animal forms and became human.
The Egyptian tradition of living deities influenced religious practice in the Greek and Roman empires. The two greatest military leaders of western antiquity both picked up this idea when they came to Egypt in the course of their conquests. Alexander the Great entered Egypt in 332 B.C. with an invading Greek army. Fascinated with Egyptian religion, he traveled 400 miles to a remote oasis in the western desert to consult with the oracle of Amun-Re. The priests told Alexander that he was Amun-Res son. Thereafter Alexander and his Hellenistic successors claimed divinity as imperial rulers of Egypt. Julius Caesar, an admirer of Alexander, succumbed to the god-king tradition while consorting with Cleopatra in 48 B.C. A cult worshiping him as a god was established. The Roman Senate, at Octavians urging, officially confirmed this institution two years after Caesars death. Although Octavian himself resisted deification, the imperial dynasty which he established fostered a cult of emperor worship. As an expression of their religious patriotism, Roman citizens were expected to offer sacrifices to the emperors genius or divine spirit.
Besides self-flattery, deification of the emperor served a useful political purpose in building religious support for the imperial regime. Belief in the emperors divinity warded off possible assassinations by ambitious or disgruntled soldiers. Some emperors preferred to rule as vice-regents of a god, reasoning that prospective assassins would be more effectively deterred if they believed that a vengeful god might survive a successful attempt. The emperors also used religion to achieve particular political objectives. For example, Ptolemy I attempted to hellenize the cult of Osiris-Apis in order to create a religious bond between his Greek regime and the native Egyptian population. The god Apis (the bull) was renamed Serapis and given a Greek visual appearance. A temple to the new god was built in Alexandria. Although Greeks were attracted to the cult of Serapis, the Egyptians continued to worship Osiris-Apis as before. The desired integration of cultures never took place. A better known example would be the decision of Antiochus Epiphanes IV to erect a statue of Zeus Ouranios in place of the altar located in the Temple at Jerusalem. His aim was to make Yahweh a local god within the pantheon of gods associated with nations in the Seleucid empire. This infamous act sparked the Maccabean military revolt.
Some Roman emperors, mad with absolute power, proclaimed their divinity in provocative ways. Caligula announced that he was a god equal to Jupiter. He established a temple cult of emperor worship and appointed his favorite horse to be one of the priests. Nero ordered a 120-foot high statue of himself to be erected with solar rays projecting from his head in the manner of Phoebus Apollo. The emperor Domitian deified members of his immediate family, organized a new order of priests to attend to their worship, and ordered government officials to refer to him in official documents as Our Lord and God. Numerous Christians were executed for refusing to offer sacrifices before his image. Most emperors, however, regarded religion simply as a tool of statecraft. They gave the gods of conquered peoples an honorable place within the Roman pantheon. Heliogabalus introduced the cult of Sol Invictus (the unconquered sun) based upon a Mesopotamian sun-god. Constantine the Great immersed himself in its divinity even after accepting Christianity. Julian the Apostate, Constantines nephew, tried to make Neoplatonism a state religion.
In the Far East, emperors continued to exercise the ancient role of priest-king well into modern times. Each year, Chinese emperors led the nation in performing sacrificial ceremonies at the Temple of Heaven which included incantations to produce a successful crop. The supreme god was Tien, or Heaven, which represented the governing force or order in the universe. Scholars interpreted this in an impersonal way while the masses prayed to Tien as a god. The emperor, being the Son of Heaven, represented Heaven on earth. He stood at the top of a social hierarchy extending down through the family. The emperors decrees were considered an expression of Gods will so long as his regime retained the mandate of Heaven. The emperor of Japan symbolized the Japanese nations unity as a family. His ceremonial role was to pay homage to the spirit of the ancestors. The idea of kami, or sacred spirit, which the emperor represented in the Shinto tradition, led to a respectful attitude in daily life. Only when militarists seized control of the Japanese government did the emperor become a symbol of its warlike ambitions. Emperor worship in Japan was a type of ancestor worship, expressing the spirituality of a race of people.
Religious belief in the first epoch of civilization was the same as in the prehistoric period. Few questioned whether the gods existed or had real power. Existing belief was merely transferred from the nature gods to gods of cities, nations, or empires. The political religions retained popular consent by respecting ancient traditions and paying homage to the ancestral gods of local peoples. To this was added the respect that comes from demonstrating worldly power. The great kings of the earth had the power to reinforce belief by their splendor and might. In those days, people looked to divine spirits and demons for an explanation of events in the natural world. Disease was thought to be caused by demon possession. Treatment was intended to drive demons from the body. Babylonian astronomers acquired much knowledge of celestial bodies while pursuing primarily astrological objectives. Each planet was a god interested in the affairs of men. Divination and fortune telling was an important occupation at imperial courts. The Shang emperors of China consulted experts who read the cracks in bones. Roman generals sought the advice of augurs before commencing battle.
Personality continued to be exhibited in gods and goddesses who inhabited the natural world and sometimes intervened in the affairs of men. Some human beings such as Achilles were descended from gods or personally interacted with them. Kings and emperors actively promoted their own reputations. In writings carved on temple walls, Egyptian Pharaohs boasted of their great victories in battle. An inscription tells how the Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pileser I, killed 120 lions on foot and another 800 lions from his chariot. Darius I of Persia wrote at Behistan: Fravartish was seized and brought to me. I cut off his nose and ears, and I cut out his tongue. Civic religion also projected personal images through statues, ornamental carvings, and other pictorial representations. The Greek style of realistic sculpture brought personalities out with unprecedented vivacity.
One of the most effective ways to spread the monarchs image was through coins. These visual tokens of his presence circulated far and wide. A Pharisee asked Jesus whether it was lawful to pay taxes to the Roman emperor. Holding up a silver coin, Jesus asked: Whose head is this? Told it was Caesars, Jesus remarked: Render to Caesar what is Caesars, and to God what is Gods.
In the epoch of civic religion, holidays commemorated important events in community life. The Romans designated nearly one third of the 355 days in their calendar as being holidays, when it was unlawful to conduct judicial or political business. The number of annual holidays increased to around 175 in the middle of the 4th century A.D. The city of Venice celebrates the wedding of the Doge and the Sea during its annual Ascension Day Fair, commemorating the Venetian doges victory over Dalmatian pirates in 1000 A.D. The English celebrate Guy Fawkes Day on November 5th with bonfires to burn an effigy of Guy Fawkes. He was the leader of a failed conspiracy to blow up Parliament with gunpowder on that date in 1605. Bastille Day in France celebrates the freeing of inmates from the Bastille prison on July 14, 1789. National holidays in the United States include Independence Day (when the Declaration of Independence was signed), Presidents Day (the birthdays of Presidents Washington and Lincoln), and the Martin Luther King holiday (birthday of the slain Civil Rights leader).
The second civilization brought the infusion of philosophy into religion. Philosophy was the most advanced system of knowledge yet seen. Its uplifting spirit touched societies from China to Greece as a roughly contemporaneous group of great thinkers and seers championed the superior values of goodness, justice, and truth. Yet, this philosophy was working from within a more ancient religious culture. That culture, too, made a creative contribution to the emerging world religions. Like two parents, male and female, revolutionary philosophy and traditional religion merged their separate elements to create a new religious order based on truth and faith. The belief structure inherited from traditional religion was secure. Christian belief was planted in the concept of a monotheistic God inherited from Judaism. The Hebrew God Jehovah had proved his superior powers through the miracles demonstrated by Moses and Elijahs contest with the priests of Baal. Likewise, the Buddhist and Hindu world religions presuppose a more ancient belief in the gods. Philosophy questioned previous religious practices and even Gods existence, but in the end settled down to produce a more sophisticated and ethically focused type of religion.
Greek philosophy had an enormous impact upon human thinking because it won the hearts and minds of an elite class that dominated societies in the far-flung lands ruled by Alexander and his successors. With its mathematical foundation and self-conscious methodology, this philosophy was considered to be the most sophisticated kind of knowledge in the world. It had captured the belief of the worlds most powerful and intelligent individuals, who saw in it a key to truth. However, the societies of India and China also went through a philosophical phase during the 6th and 5th centuries B.C. Every school of opinion had its representative. Those whom history remembers most were the moral philosophers and idealists with a definite prescription for what human beings ought to do.
The central figure in the Greek philosophical movement was Plato. Plato founded a school for philosophers in Athens. His theory was that, by their study of geometry, music, and other sublime subjects, the souls of young men would be converted from base interests to a love of goodness and truth. Plato believed that to know the pure idea of the good would make men want to be good. He compared education at the Academy with scaling a mountain and viewing the world from a higher perspective. It was the duty of philosophers, having glimpsed the higher truths, to go back down into society and make use of their vision. For once habituated (to truth), he wrote, you (philosophers) will discern them (worldly conditions) infinitely better than the dwellers there, and you will know what each of the idols is and whereof it is a semblance, because you have seen the reality of the beautiful, the just, and the good. Plato believed that acquiring correct knowledge of ideas was the key to improving individual lives. It was a matter of immersing oneself in abstract reasoning, developing sublime habits of mind, and exercising them in daily life. Plato maintained that ideas were real - more real, in fact, than physical objects. In the Timaeus, he described an eternal realm of existence in which ideas were stored, like patterns to create things in the world.
Platos student, Aristotle, founded a rival school of philosophy. His treatise, Nicomachean Ethics, approached the concept of goodness from another direction. In Aristotles view, it was good to be happy. However, happiness was not so much the pursuit of immediate pleasure as an activity in accordance with virtue which brought long-term satisfaction. Ethical philosophy became a question of how to pursue happiness in a rational manner. Aristotle allowed that individuals had freedom of choice in setting happiness as an end. Ends he defined as what we wish for. Means were what we deliberate about and choose in pursuing those ends. Happiness as an end represents, therefore, fulfillment of ones true desires. Desire creates value; it is a psychic mechanism which makes certain things personally important and stimulates the process of seeking to achieve them. If it is good to fulfill ones desires, the mission of philosophy becomes to develop a strategy for doing so successfully.
The rational pursuit of happiness comes down to steps that an intelligent person might take to improve the chances of reaching this objective in an uncertain world. One eliminates pursuits such as immoderate wine-drinking which bring short-term pleasure with long-term pain. Most physical pleasures drop out of ones inventory of desires. One also eliminates activities over whose outcome one has little control. For instance, the pursuit of another persons love involves a high degree of risk and uncertainty. Therefore, no rational person would hope to achieve a goal of this sort. Philosophers would instead seek to fulfill intelligent desires - ones which put a person in the position of being able to will a successful pursuit of happiness. The most radical solution to this question was Buddhas. He taught that the way to happiness, or avoidance of suffering, was to extinguish desires completely. If one has no desires, one cannot fail to achieve them. Short of that, a rational person might escape the unhappiness of unfulfilled desire by avoiding the kinds of emotional entanglements that bring pain.
By this criterion, the best kind of love is self-love. Having the source of reciprocation under ones control, one can will satisfaction of desire. One is thus able to contain the flow of emotional energy and stay serene. Therefore, a life of equanimity, devoid of pity or joy directed towards ones fellow human beings, was considered the most sensible approach for a philosophically directed person wishing to be happy. Indeed, that was the direction that the Graeco-Roman and Indian schools of philosophy ultimately took. Philosophers cultivated an attitude of mental detachment, suppressing sentiments of sympathy and love. Seneca said: Pity is a mental illness induced by the spectacle of other peoples miseries ... The sage does not succumb to such-like mental diseases. Epictetus told his disciples: If you are kissing a child of yours ... never put your imagination unreservedly into the act and never give your emotion free rein ... Indeed, there is no harm in accompanying the act of kissing the child by whispering over him, Tomorrow you will die.
The excessive rationality of this philosophy had to be tempered by other influences for the culture to survive. These influences came in the form of superstitious practices and beliefs encountered in conquered territories. Alexanders armies brought back to Greece, besides booty, an interest in Babylonian astrology. The Romans conquered an immense territory which included the land of Judaea. And from Judaea came the strange tale of a man named Jesus who was crucified but rose again from the dead. That such a creed could meet and overcome the sophisticated philosophies of Rome was totally irrational; yet it happened. The Christian message seemed absurd to the Roman ruling class. Its principles of pacifism and submission to worldly authority were despised as slaves virtues. In Christianity, reason was offset by the softer human qualities of mercy and love. The Romans could not see any merit in this. Such doctrines seemed to be encouraging weak and irrational tendencies of character. Yet, the Apostle Paul observed in First Corinthians: Divine folly is wiser than the wisdom of man, and divine weakness stronger than mans strength.
What Christianity gave to Romes philosophical culture was the element of personality. The masses of Roman society could relate more readily to a message of compassion than to admonitions aiming at mental detachment. This religion was especially popular with women and slaves. In the image of Jesus on the Cross, the suffering masses found a sympathetic model. His subsequent resurrection from the dead delivered a powerful message of hope. The Gospel story of Jesus presents the image of a man, not unlike a philosopher, who is highly intellectual and personally disciplined. Since this was not an image congenial with ordinary people, nascent Christianity borrowed other personal elements from rival cults in Roman society to achieve increased emotional appeal. From the Egyptian cult of Isis, Phrygian cult of Cybele, and others, it added the female image of an adoring mother, which was bestowed upon the Virgin Mary. Jesus role of saviour was foreshadowed by the Persian god Mithras who slew a bull. Devotees of the Greek god Dionysius, like Christians celebrating the Eucharist, believed that they were drinking the gods own blood when they imbibed wine.
A similar process was meanwhile converting the philosophical religion of Buddha into a saviour cult having mass appeal. Buddhas original teachings, which are preserved in Theravadin Buddhism, showed individuals how they might achieve Nirvana, or blissful escape from recurrent lives, through a shift in attitude. The problem was that, once the teacher had escaped to personal extinction, he was inaccessible to followers of his religion. A new branch of the religion, Mahayana Buddhism, developed in northwestern India during the first two centuries, A.D., before spreading overland to China. The Mahayana teaching held that the Buddha, out of compassion for his followers, had delayed his own departure from earth to help others achieve Nirvana. Buddha was thus transformed from a spiritual philosopher into a personal saviour. Though he was himself an atheist or, at least, a person uninterested in questions concerning deities or eternal life, Buddha eventually became in the religious culture a godlike figure endowed with miraculous, benevolent powers. The bodhisattvas were deities of lesser rank who would also respond to calls for help. Mahayana Buddhism, like Christianity, developed a practice of charitable works and a belief in a paradise for virtuous souls after death.
The older Hindu tradition of India became a polytheistic religion with a rich array of male and female personalities. Having survived the Buddhist challenge, it reorganized by incorporating elements from its rival religion. Previously, the Vedic rituals were intended to make the gods help people in some way. The Sanskrit literature had become rather technical. Revived Hinduism featured worship with an emotional bond between gods or goddesses and their devotees like that between the bodhisattvas and Buddhist worshipers. A triune of supreme deities - Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva - ruled over a universe which balances creation and destruction. Shiva and his female consort, Kali, represented the forces of destruction and death. Vishnu, god of love, was a personal savior who was sometimes incarnated in a human being. Brahma was the original creator of the universe, beyond good and evil. Ganesha, the elephant-headed god of wisdom, was son of Shiva and Parvati, his benign consort. An outgrowth of earlier nature religion, the Hindu pantheon was united in a matrix of family-like relationships defined in literature and myth. Worshipers prayed to the particular gods or goddesses for particular purposes, brought offerings, or went to festivals in honor of them.
The religion of Islam was as austere in its concepts and practices as the Hindu religion was lush. In reaction to the Hellenic influences upon Christianity, Islam reaffirmed the uncompromising monotheism of Moses. There was no trinity of persons in the godhead, only one God. Except for theological refinements, the belief structure of this religion was similar to that of the Jewish and Christian religions. The righteous, who passed the Last Judgment, would be admitted after death to paradise. Islams prohibition of personal images in religion made it difficult to project personality in Islamic culture to the degree possible in other religions. Still, Mohammed himself had left an historical record which included some of this element. The personal ingredient in Islamic culture also comes from a rich tradition of poetry centered in persons who have submitted completely to God. They would include the great Persian poets Rumi and Hafiz, both members of the mystical Sufi brotherhood. Islam makes strict personal demands upon the worshiper. At the same time, Allah is considered to be a merciful and compassionate God who acknowledges the fact of human weakness.
Chinese religion began with a strong tradition of ancestor worship over which was laid philosophies of the 6th and 5th centuries B.C. Two native Chinese philosophies, Confucianism and Taoism, were joined in the 3rd century A.D. by a full-blown religion imported from India. This was Buddhism in its Mahayana form. Each religion had a literature to support its belief component. The followers of Confucius have the Nine Classics, which include five books attributed to Confucius himself and four written by others. Confucian literature is a mixture of historical, ethical, ritualistic, and metaphysical writings. The Taoist literature is focused on one book, the Tao-Te-Ching or Book of the Way and of Virtue, which is attributed to Lao-tse. While the Confucians tend to be rationalistic and the Taoists mystical, both philosophies became religious cults which elevated their founder to godlike status. Every large Chinese city had a temple where officials offered sacrifices to Confucius spirit. The Mahayana Buddhists engaged in a highly personal form of worship. Large statues or carvings of the Buddha adorned its temples and caves. The Taoists concocted magical potions and elixirs of life to gain personal immortality.
Belief is well established in all the world religions. An extensive theological literature details doctrinal positions on each aspect of religious life. Councils of clergy have been convened to define orthodoxy. Heretics have been identified and punished. It would be pointless to discuss this aspect further. With respect to personality, the supreme person is, obviously, God. Yet, God is not the main focus of personality in the world religions. What we know about God personally comes from an earlier scripture. When religion became philosophical, God became more like an idea. Aristotle wrote that Gods self-dependent actuality is life most good and eternal. In other words, God personifies eternal Goodness. Toynbee wrote that the higher religions all worship a Reality that is one and the same behind its diverse aspects. In other words, Gods being unifies all existence. The ontological argument of St. Anselm defined God as the most perfect being of whom we can conceive; God must therefore exist or else he would lack an essential attribute. This was playing with ideas. The consensus of religious opinion has been that God is beyond human understanding - an all-powerful yet personal being whom we cannot definitively know.
Since God is unknowable, personality in CivII would center, first, upon the prophets or founders of the several world religions and, second, upon a myriad of lesser figures in each religious tradition. Literature would be the vehicle for exhibiting these persons. As presented in the four Gospels, Jesus is a character in an intensely dramatic and intimate story. The lives of Mohammed and Buddha, and of Confucius and Lao-tse, are similarly known. The lives, sayings, and ideas of these great religious personalities come through most clearly in a verbal medium. Yet, religious culture has also made use of personal images. Mahayana Buddhism has been called the religion of images. Inspired by Greek models of visual art, statues of the Buddha were introduced in China in the 6th century A.D. Typically, this figure would be seated in lotus position, his right palm raised and his left palm lowered, with elongated ears and a fat, contented face. Christianity has, of course, the image of Jesus hanging on the Cross. It has the Madonna and child as portrayed in countless paintings. At Christmas, the creche recreates the scene of the Nativity.
With respect to the lesser personalities, we can start with famous hermits like St. Anthony or with spiritual acrobats like St. Simeon Stylites. Their daring exhibitions of self-discipline won the admiration of the entire Christian world. Indian religion provides holy men who perform conspicuous feats of telepathy or acts exhibiting insensitivity to physical pain. Medieval Europe was obsessed with the Virgin Mary. The period of Roman persecution had produced a large number of Christian martyrs and saints whose bones or other remains became objects of worship. Such relics, kept in a shrine or church, were thought capable of producing miraculous cures. Mass pilgrimages took place to visit the saintly remains. Some saints were heroic missionaries like St. Patrick and St. Columba. St. Francis of Assisi is known for his gentle nature and his way with animals. St. Theresa was a Christian mystic and Carmelite nun. Each holy man or woman exhibited the spirit of God in some personal way.
Each major religion has established holidays to commemorate important events or persons. The Jewish Passover remembers the time when God killed each first-born child in Egypt but passed over the homes of Hebrews whose doorposts were smeared with blood. Moslems celebrate Mohammeds birthday and the feast following the fast of Ramadan, the month when the Koran was first revealed. Buddhists celebrate the Buddhas birth and death and the date of his achieving nirvana. The festivals of Holi and of Durga-Puja, in honor of the goddesses Vasanti and Kali respectively, are major Hindu holidays. Easter, which commemorates Christs resurrection, is the most important Christian holiday. In addition to Easter and Christmas, the calendar of Christian holidays includes days celebrating such events as Christs Ascension into Heaven, the Pentecost (when the early Christian community was filled with the Holy Spirit), and the Epiphany (revelation of divine power at Jesus baptism) in addition to commemorations of Christian saints. During the Middle Ages, it was considered a sin to do servile work on these holidays. Public worship and merriment instead took place.
One would be tempted to say that Protestant Christianity was the religion of the third civilization. The cultural impetus for this epoch came from Europe, and the Protestant Reformation was Europes most important religious event. However, the spirit of this age was secular rather than religious. Renaissance humanism considered man, not God, to be the measure of all things. Its culture proclaimed the dignity and worth of the individual person. There was a revival of interest in pagan arts and letters bequeathed from classical antiquity. The Christian virtue of poverty gave way to rediscovered appreciation of wealth. Where medieval culture had embraced the philosophical tradition of exalting mind and hating the body, the human body became a beautiful object for artists to paint. Although the basic concepts of Christianity did not change, the institutional church faced a challenge to its authority. Religious faith became a matter, first, of royal determination and, then, of individual choice. It ultimately became a part of ones ethnic heritage, which preserved the morals of a community.
Doubting Thomas would not believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead until he had put his fingers inside Jesus wounds. Likewise, the attitude of intellectuals in the late medieval and Renaissance periods was that seeing is believing. Galileo saw that, contrary to Aristotles opinion, pendulums of varying widths but equal lengths swung at the same rate. He chose to believe the evidence of his own eyes rather than Aristotle. The scientific revolution of the 17th century took place at a time when Christian convictions had grown coercive and violent. European intellectuals were disgusted by the rancorous theological disputes that had led to the Thirty Years War. They wished to channel their creative energies into an area where reasonable men might agree on some points. Scientific truth in its modern incarnation is not a system of belief derived from a superior intelligence but a working hypothesis designed to fit an observed set of facts. The general pattern of knowledge is determined by these facts. The pattern is freely changed if a new set of facts should appear which contradicts existing theory. Science is therefore more a system of anti-belief, or a studied policy not to hold fast to its principles in the face of contradictory evidence, than of belief in a traditional sense.
Yet, because of its affinity to the natural world, this type of knowledge has been applied to technologies which visibly affect peoples lives. Scientific knowledge has literally changed the earths landscape. Because people can see its results, science has instant credibility. Although the initial scientific discoveries centered in astronomy, enlightened Europeans soon became interested in increasing agricultural yields through crop rotation and horse-drawn plows. The invention of the steam engine in the 18th century was applied to pumping water from mines and to large-scale textiles manufacturing. This required coal; and, to haul coal from the mines to its place of use, industrial engineers built inland canals and railroads through which steam-driven engines might pass. Discoveries in metallurgy developed stronger grades of iron and steel. Bridges were built of this metal, and then skyscrapers. Electricity lit up the cities and propelled trains in the subways. One could hardly doubt the power of scientific knowledge to create a world of marvelous convenience and wealth. Prosperity itself depended on finding and applying the knowledge more quickly than ones competitors.
The natural sciences were related to a new type of philosophy that emerged during the 17th and 18th centuries. This empiricist philosophy, associated with such persons as Descartes, Pascal, Locke, and Hume, saw the world differently than the idealistic philosophies had. Where the idealists held that ideas existed independently and were the source of worldly objects, empiricist philosophers treated the mind as a mechanism which produces ideas. The purpose of philosophy became to discover through introspection how the mind worked. Mental processes were based upon operations of a bodily organ called the brain. The natural world itself was a huge, clock-like mechanism that operated according to causal laws. Locke, Rousseau, Montesquieu, and others were architects of a new system of government based upon a social contract, consent of the governed, and respect for property rights, as opposed to hereditary privilege. The principle of divided power ensured its safety and well being. David Hume and his disciple Adam Smith were pioneers of economic theory who argued that national wealth is maximized by removing restrictions upon commercial and personal freedom. These social philosophers created the belief systems supporting democratic government and free markets.
It is clear that in the third epoch of civilization people believed in money. Money was valuable and real. For all the questioning about Gods existence, however, few bothered to ask whether money existed. They just assumed that it did. Gold and silver underlay traditional forms of money, so European adventurers went to the New World to seek this kind of wealth. The Spanish king acquired tons of precious metals from American mines only to discover that his nation was becoming bankrupt. The huge increase in the supply of silver had produced severe monetary inflation. Each ounce of silver bought less than before. So silver money was not quite as solid as people had thought. Another revelation came in the early 1700s when the French state, exhausted from Louis XIVs wars, thought it had run out of money. A Scottish financier, John Law, won support for a proposal to create new money by issuing bank notes backed by his own capital. This scheme succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. Public confidence had made the money real. But then, when Laws bank was combined with a stock company to sell land in Louisiana, a speculative frenzy ensued which drove up the price of the shares to unsupportable levels. When the bubble burst, Law fled the country in disgrace. Another lesson in reality had been learned.
What was the nature of a nations true wealth? A Scottish economist, Adam Smith, attempted to answer this question in a book published in 1776. Wealth of Nations argued that wealth was not quantities of money but useful goods and services freely produced and sold to willing purchasers in the market place. The mercantilist scheme of running consistent surpluses in their trading accounts could not be practiced by all nations. Smiths idea that free markets optimized national wealth and that governments should stay clear of this process to the greatest extent possible became the foundation of capitalistic faith. A half century later, Karl Marx proposed the opposite theory, that national economies would be better off if governments not only meddled in commercial markets but, indeed, took over the entire structure of production and managed things according to principles of economic science. Two competing ideologies, each backed by political regimes which had missiles and hydrogen bombs, polarized the worlds nations in the waning years of CivIII. It was this epochs equivalent of religious warfare.
The money-centered culture carried with it the additional belief that possession of wealth meant something in society. In ancient Chinese society, it had not. The merchants, though comfortable, were despised. In the post-Renaissance European and American societies, the stigma against money was largely removed. To be rich was an important qualification for high social standing. Still, the nouveau riche did not quite belong in a class with the old-money aristocrats who bore their wealth gracefully. Education was useful in repairing that deficiency. Children of the rich needed to acquire the trappings of nobility to make their status secure and complete. So, along with the belief in money went a belief in schools. The first generation might consist of boors or criminals who earned the money, while their children acquired a taste for the finer things in life. Learning to speak and write in grammatically correct sentences, being conversant with some of the civilizations best works of literature and art, and having the money to do as one pleased - these marked being a gentleman.
Personality in the third epoch did not necessarily follow belief. As Graeco-Roman philosophy led to an ethical position devoid of human warmth, so empirical science lacks the element of engaging personality which mass culture seems to require. Disciplined to be objective, the experimental scientist leaves himself personally out of the picture. While a certain cult has formed around the person of Albert Einstein, scientists are perceived to be rather bland individuals who frequent laboratories and other antiseptic places. Only the proverbial mad scientist seems colorful enough to excite the popular imagination. Perhaps, then, we should be looking to the business community for heroes? They are the ones who have assembled the largest amounts of money. However, industrial, financial, and commercial leaders as a group lack the personal color and social appeal to inspire masses of people. They generally work behind the scenes of their commercial empires and have personalities almost as bland as the scientists. Occasionally, an Andrew Carnegie or Henry Ford will excite popular interest by their entrepreneurial boldness and philanthropy, but these are the exceptions.
The beginning period of this epoch was not lacking in heroes. Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama, Fernando Magellan, and Ponce de León went boldly to places where no European had previously set foot. The military conquests of Hernando Cortés and Francisco Pizarro were as dazzling as any in history. Still, these great historical figures did not personally excite the culture of CivIII as the founders and saints of religion had in CivII. The problem may be that they lacked a vehicle for exhibiting their personalities. Books of world history are not widely read. Where, then, did the third civilization obtain its personal images? A plausible answer is: from literature and art.
The Renaissance is known as a time when skilled artists and craftsmen produced paintings, buildings, sculpture, and other beautiful objects. Portrait painting became popular. So the art of creating visual images, always an important means of conveying personality, played a big part in CivIII from the beginning. To the visual arts were added intimate personal expressions in the form of love poems such as those which Dante wrote to Beatrice or Petrarch wrote to Laura. Shakespeares dramatic works presented an array of memorable characters. These were literate ways of delivering personality to a mass audience, albeit in a fictional mode. What was not fiction was the artist himself. Artists were persons of developed vision who had a talent for expressing it in a certain medium. They had personality in a different sense.
Raphael once said: To paint a beautiful woman, I need to see many beautiful women ... But since there is a dearth ... I use as my guide a certain idea of the beautiful that I carry in my mind. The artists expression is in one sense a naturalistic depiction of an object, but, as Raphael admitted, the artist intrudes with his own images and ideas of style. Since each artist carries inside him a different set of images, an artistic expression is stamped with the personality of its creator. Renaissance painters were aware of Platos conception of beauty, and it guided them in their art. The profession of artist was, therefore, more than simple craftsmanship. Artists were intellectuals cut from the same highbrow cloth as philosophers. However, unlike the philosopher who presents a universal image of truth, an artist expresses a personal vision through techniques related to his art. He develops a unique craft by patient exercise and experimentation. At the end of this process comes a cultivated habit representing the artists own style. That makes the artist himself a stylistic commodity which attracts a certain clientele.
After the invention of printing, it became possible to record a writers exact words and reproduce them in many copies. Numerous readers could thereby become intimately acquainted with the writers habits of mind. Printed newspapers with large circulations began to serialize the writings of well-known authors. Novelists were paid a certain sum of money for each written line, depending on their popularity. The reading public learned to recognize and appreciate the individual writers. Another kind of artist was the composer of music. Working with musical notations instead of words, he, too, developed personal style. One could recognize the composer from the music. Orchestral concerts made his works known. As visual artists, writers, and musicians over the years produced individually recognizable works, a tradition of artistic, musical, and literary culture appeared. Masterpieces of the visual arts became available to a wide audience through new technologies of reproduction such as chromolithography, photoengraving, and color printing. Player pianos and phonographic recordings reproduced orchestral music. Each self-respecting community acquired institutions of high culture, including symphony orchestras, opera houses, and museums, to display the cultural works in public.
Alexander Selkirk became a celebrity when he told his adventures of having been stranded for four years on the Juan Fernández island in the Pacific Ocean to Richard Steele, a journalist, who wrote up the story and published it in a London-based journal in 1713. Six years later, Daniel Defoe published a novel, Robinson Crusoe, based on the same experience. The characters, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, which appear in Mark Twains novels of the same names, are notable personalities in American fiction. However, the authors themselves rather than characters appearing in their writings have been the main focus of CivIII personality. During the 19th century, books began to include pictures of authors on the title page as well as their names. Novelists such as Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, and Mark Twain became cultural idols while touring on the lecture circuit. Serialized novels and the publication of many similar works by the same author created public expectations of him. Literary styles gained a following.
It may have been the English Romantic poets who first inspired the idea that a writers life could be as colorful and interesting as that of any character found in his writings. In the heady period when England led a coalition of nations to defeat Napoleons armies, Lord Byron cut a bold figure. A voracious womanizer and gambler who was perpetually in debt, he toured Europe during the French occupation and wrote a poetic account of his adventures, Childe Harolds Pilgrimage, which made him internationally famous. Byrons friendship with Shelley, his restless travels, and his heroic fight to liberate Greece from the Turkish empire during the last year of his short life, in addition to his prolific verse, combined to suggest an intellectually and emotionally intense personality which was attractive to youth. Poetry became a source of spiritual excitement with a strong connection to life. Young lovers spoke to each others hearts through this medium of beauty and truth. Prose literature ripened into the thick 19th century novel. Writers such as Dickens, Balzac, Hugo, and Tolstoy developed a specialty in describing the brutal lives of the poor. Art was in league with powerful political currents which called for the emancipation of humanity from wage slavery and other ills.
Education at the time of the Renaissance focused upon classical literature. Starting in 17th century, the schools paid increased attention to works written in contemporary languages which were both a stylistic model for writing and a source of national pride. Schoolchildren began to study their national literature. College students were encouraged to take courses in the liberal arts which would expose them to, in Matthew Arnolds words, the best that has been thought and said in a nations cultural life. No student of English literature could be ignorant of poets such as Milton, Wordsworth, Shelley, or Keats. The orchestral music of Bach, Mozart, Handel, and Beethoven was familiar to all who had achieved any degree of cultural sophistication. It became a measure of a nations greatness how many of those creative giants its people had produced. The French led the way with a new style of prose writing which produced dramatists like Molière and essayists like Montaigne and Pascal. The English could boast of Shakespeare, Milton, and Pope. The Germans were known for their composers of music. The late 19th century French set the pace in experimental painting. Italian, Flemish, and Dutch painters provided more than their share of the Old Masters exhibited in museums. And, the nationalistic Americans claimed to have as good as or better than the Europeans in most areas.
Treasured as part of humanitys cultural heritage and exhibited in liberal-arts courses, the works created by famous writers, artists, and musical composers loomed above the horizon of CivIII like stars in a heaven of beautiful expressions. It became a sign of personal sophistication and intelligence to be a consumer of this culture and to be able to understand and appreciate its exquisite design. To be conversant with names suggesting a high degree of intellectual refinement became the mark of an educated person. One had the worldly yet emotionally detached attitude of the connoisseur who knows excellence in its many forms. The artist, source of that excellence, became the center of cultural attention. Here was genius combined with an often colorful and glamorous personal life. Vincent Van Goghs bout with insanity, F. Scott Fitzgeralds life in high society, Ernest Hemingways masculine pastimes, and Jack Kerouacs beatnik lifestyle conveyed an image of living on the edge. (Public interest in Claude Monet increased when it was alleged that he had a mistress.) The idea took hold that one must have personally experienced life at the extremities to be able to write or paint so knowledgeably about it. And so, the hard-living, hard-drinking, womanizing artist or writer of the early 20th century captured the public imagination and helped to satisfy its hunger for personality.
When civilization became commercial in the third epoch, opportunistic merchants turned Christian holidays into semiofficial occasions to sell merchandise. The cult of commercial Christmases finds scriptural support in Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol, featuring the character of Scrooge. In the original story, Scrooge is too tight-fisted to give his employee, Bob Crachit, time off from work to celebrate Christmas with his family. Since that theme does not suit contemporary business thinking, Scrooge has instead become someone who is too cheap to spend money on Christmas presents. Santa Claus, today a seasonal employee of department stores, once personified St. Nicholas, a Christian bishop of the 4th century. St. Valentines Day, which used to honor a saint of that name, has become a day for sweethearts to buy flowers or greeting cards for each other. Halloween is an occasion for giving candy to children or attending ghoulish costume parties. The purely commercial holidays include Mothers Day, Fathers Day, Grandparents Day, and Secretaries week; they name the person who is to receive gifts. Washingtons birthday, no longer a national holiday, remains a day for merchants to offer special sales.
Fame is really our religion in America, wrote UCLA literature professor Leo Braudy. And we have a constantly changing calendar of saints whom we encounter in our media churches, especially films and television, which have the largest congregations. To think of television or film entertainment as a religion may seem a stretch since few find their shows to be culturally edifying. Yet, in the fourth epoch of history, popular entertainment sets the cultural/spiritual agenda. The element of belief is barely visible here. Entertainment generally does not present a serious message or, except for the commercials, aim to convert someone to a particular point of view. It is make believe - an outgrowth of childrens play. From childhood on, people understand the value of this experience. When one is pretending to be someone or be in a particular situation, one safely experiences such things. Entertainment is emotionally stimulating without requiring a commitment of preparation or attention. One can relax, laugh, and have fun.
Personality is the strong suit of the entertainment culture. Films, sound recordings, radio, and television have an unusual ability to capture the sensuous aspect of personality and transmit its images to a large number of people. Radio listeners grow comfortable with the voices they hear at certain times of the day and with the imagined persons behind them. Television viewers are used to having certain individuals in their living rooms. The electronic media have thus extended our personal neighborhoods to include all the people whom we have come to know from their productions. The entertainers personalities are spread out before us in various roles. On the screen in a movie theater or on television appear the images of familiar persons, their faces and bodies in front of our eyes, close up or distant, in a variety of characters, stories, and scenes. We feel that we are with these people and know them personally.
For all the lonely persons in this world, the electronic image of the performers breaks down their sense of isolation and reconnects them with humanity. These performers have such vibrant personalities yet are accessible to ordinary people. Some like dancers and musicians have obvious talent. The film stars tend to be picked for more elusive personal reasons. Lana Turner reportedly was discovered by a Hollywood film mogul while working behind the counter at Schwanns drug store. Mainly, actors and actresses are paid for being themselves and acting naturally, although having an attractive body and face helps. That being the case, the idea has taken hold that anyone can be a star. All it takes is being in the right place at the right time, plus a bit of luck.
In the previous civilization, personality appeared in the pale medium of printed words or, indirectly, in the texture of an artists creative vision. The technologies of electronic recording and communication have filled in the physical presence that was previously left to the readers imagination. The viewer or listener can now see or hear actual recordings of a scene. The personal image of the performer who stands before the camera or microphone crowds expression in these media. As the night sky disappears with the suns rising, so the old cult of musical composers, artists, and writers has faded with the arrival of electronic technologies that can deliver the far more vivid images of personality in performing artists exhibited in the full glare of sensuous detail. The focus of personality has therefore shifted from the person who conceives and writes a cultural work to the person who performs it. The performers direct personal image is so much more powerful than the hints of personality found in the works of pre-electronic culture.
There are still persons who write dramatic scripts serving the same function as ones written in Shakespeares time. They are the screenwriters for films and writers of scripts for made-for-television drama. Yet, neither the critics nor the general public seems to care about their artistry any more. Budd Schulberg, a screen writer who won a prize at the Deauville Festival of American Films, complained at the awards ceremony that only the film directors, never the screenwriters, were listed in the festivals program. If the plays the thing, so is the movie script, he argued. In the field of recorded music, the public spotlight falls upon the person who sings and records a popular song rather than the person who wrote it. Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, who wrote Hound Dog and other songs for Elvis Presley, remarked: We always thought it was sort of pathetic that the originator of the song ended up with small potatoes and some decal, some imitator, would wind up making a bloody fortune off their efforts.
The star system has conquered Hollywood. Because a performer has personal qualities that appeal to many people, he or she becomes a hot property in the motion-picture industry. Film proposals immediately become viable if one or another performer who had a recent box-office hit can be persuaded to play a leading role in the proposed picture. If a star is very hot, said Kirk Douglas, he can get a film made. For that reason, the talent agents who represent actors and actresses of proven appeal have become top power brokers in Hollywood. In the new era of free agency which replaced the old studio system, they are involved in putting together the packages of talent - performers, directors, writers, musicians - needed to produce a film. The music industry runs on the injections of personality which recording artists put into their songs. Phonographic or tape recordings, which pick up each inflection in a singers voice, deliver the unique personal renditions of musical works. Vocal recordings generally outsell instrumental music because the listeners relate to people most of all.
As an intensely personal medium, electronic entertainment provides widely imitated models of personality. Elvis Presleys sideburns and the Beatles interest in Transcendental Meditation affected personal fashions of their day. James Dean has long been a hero for rebellious youth. Many who cannot relate to other people on the basis of hobby or occupation may share an interest in the movies or television shows that they have seen. Entertainment experiences date people generationally. They are something for strangers to talk about in casual conversation. To have witnessed an important event on live television such as the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald or mans first steps on the Moon makes one feel connected to history. Professional sports make a ritual of uniting communities behind the home team. To be a rabid sports fan is an acceptable model of sociability - not quite as stuffy as some others. The obituary of a man who had once headed the tax department of a large corporation included this statement: Despite 60 years in Minnesota, he remained a loyal (Green Bay) Packer fan. He began attending their games in 1925 and always happily recounted how he had a 48 yard line, 12th row seat during the 1929, 1930, and 1931 championship seasons.
As far as belief is concerned, the entertainment industry stands ready to deliver whatever fantasies significant portions of the population might have, be they visions of adventure, easy money, or sexual intimacy. Tourism has changed from travel to places like the Grand Canyon or Williamsburg to what Hal Rothman calls entertainment tourism. He explains: You walk through a tourist attraction and you know that you are the most important thing in it. It holds a mirror up to you and says that in this reflection you can be whatever you want to be. Las Vegas is the epitome of this.
Professional sports feeds on the sense of fan loyalty combined with a tradition of sandlot baseball, school teams, and families that enjoy recreational pastimes together. Yet, its very success has driven up player salaries, ticket prices, and the cost of sponsoring televised games. When politicians in south Florida refused to build the Florida Marlins a new stadium with taxpayer money, the Marlins owner traded or sold off virtually every starter on its 1997 World Championship team with the result that the 1998 Marlins finished in last place. Heretofore, some parity in the playing ability of the two competing teams has been needed to maintain belief in the authenticity of athletic contests. However, the Major League teams located in smaller-sized cities cannot afford the player salaries which those in the larger cities pay. The Minnesota Twins have slashed player payrolls to achieve profitability at the risk of sacrificing team loyalty. To push the entertainment aspects of the event with special promotions like Dog Days, blimps, and pregame concerts may or may not overcome that basic deficiency.
David Sarnoff, who unveiled television broadcasting at the 1939 Worlds Fair, believed that this medium would improve the culture of the United States. It is probable, he said, that television drama of high caliber and produced by first-rate artists will materially raise the level of dramatic taste of the nation. This did not happen. Other values than artistic excellence kicked in. One might say that entertainment moguls today believe in the Nielsen ratings, especially viewer ratings within the prime demographic categories. Program producers use every trick in the book to keep viewers from switching channels, especially those who will be likely shoppers for the advertised products. The eyeballs must be held together at all costs. If newsworthy or educationally valuable programs attracted viewers, television would certainly air them; but since they do not, programs of lower quality which are cheaper to produce flood the airwaves.
Entertainment is simply entertainment - an attempt to amuse rather than instruct. True or not, whatever engages peoples interest and attention will continue to be produced. This is a sector which appreciates the well-done image. While a few stodgy people think that television or film should spread knowledge, George Page, a producer of television documentaries, has said: Television and film can always only scratch the surface ... If you try to be definitive, you wind up with terrible television and terrible, unwatchable films.
Yet, while movie scripts are basically fiction, the element of belief can also be important. A film such as Jurassic Park, which was based upon the implausible premise that dinosaurs were brought back to life, had to convince audiences that the script had a connection with reality. Director Steven Spielberg insisted that the success of this film depended as much upon its scientific credibility as the special effects. The idea was that DNA from a dinosaurs blood had been sucked by a mosquito which was trapped in amber and preserved for 130 million years. Scientists extracted the DNA from the amber and used it to clone a dinosaur. In fact, at the same time that Jurassic Park was being filmed, biologists were successfully cloning an ancient bee from DNA preserved in amber.
Children learn through play to distinguish make-believe from reality. Not even this prepares them for the baffling situation that they face when exposed to products of the entertainment industry. A mother took her 3-year-old daughter to see Disneys Aladdin on Ice. She reported that her daughters excitement over Aladdin was so intense that it rendered her speechless ... Midway through the first act, the little one finally spoke.
Now I was rendered speechless. Which one, indeed. Im awed by the layers of reality that I must navigate to explain pop culture to a preschooler.
In the early days of live television, part of viewer excitement was knowing that, because the program was live, anything could happen. The performer could forget the lines or make an embarrassing blooper, and the audience was there to watch. There was a sense of anticipation missing in todays taped shows. The experience was real. In those days the television industry stressed its unique ability to communicate with masses of people in the case of civil-defense emergencies. The networks sought respectability in quality news operations to offset criticism of their more profitable but inane entertainment shows. News is a type of programming weighted more heavily towards the belief end of the spectrum. The television viewer watches the news partly for the experience of being entertained by new and unusual events and partly for the purpose of monitoring a possibly useful stream of information. Because the news is unscripted, the public would be outraged if it were disclosed that news reporters simply made up their stories. In an era of staged media events, however, the line between real and fake news can sometimes be hard to detect.
Some types of entertainment depend on the authenticity of not knowing the outcome of a spectacle in progress. Participants in a lottery must have assurance that the winner has not already been selected when they place their bets. Even events such as game or quiz shows which are seen as pure entertainment must have a foundation in belief. When Charles Van Doren confessed that he had been coached to give the right answers on The $64,000 Question, it created a national scandal. During an athletic contest, one does not know which contestant will win. To know the final result of a game while watching it would detract from the suspense of experiencing an incomplete event. If the game is shot live, viewers know it could go either way. Credibility was stretched in the 1996 Summer Olympics when the sponsoring network, NBC, failed to disclose to viewers that it was airing a delayed tape of Kerri Strugs gymnastics performance with an injured ankle. The commentators suggested that her points were needed for the U.S. team to win a gold medal. In truth, the commentators already knew the outcome. Strugs routine, while gritty, was not actually needed to win the medal. NBC had decided to stress unfolding personal drama at the expense of reality.
Part of the value of watching an athletic contest is knowing that, because in any such contest there will be both winners and losers, the athletes are under real pressure to win. The uncertainty of victory both adds to the viewing excitement and produces true champions. A champion must learn to discipline himself or herself to perform well at a time when it counts. The performer must learn to control nervousness. The adrenalin must be flowing and the mind be sailing smoothly through a routine. While some talent and much practice are involved, the spectators also realize that a champion performer must be in the right frame of mind. There is an art to achieving this mental edge. Such concentration is difficult to achieve and the public knows it. Therefore, it is customary for television commentators to interview the winning athletes in the heat of their victory with the object of looking inside their heads. What was the athlete mentally trying to accomplish while making this superb effort? What special thoughts might have inspired it? How, indeed, does it feel to be a winner? The answers to such questions may be the closest that many in our time will come to witnessing divine inspiration.
With respect to scripted entertainment, people realize that its spectacle is mostly illusion. The tapes can be edited to remove blemishes and mistakes so that an artificial degree of perfection is achieved. The performing artist who is up for a performance may revert to being a disorganized wreck once the camera is turned off. After all, these are just actors - persons who make a living by pretending to be someone else. Still, people yearn to know the reality beneath the illusion. They eagerly read fan magazines, tabloid newspapers, or anything else that purports to show the real person behind the celebrity performer. The late-night television talk shows present an endless stream of guests from the entertainment industry. These guests make no claim to possessing wisdom or even advanced acting skills whose secret they will now reveal to audiences on the show. The public is interested in them simply as people - seeing the reality behind their public persona. A big thrill lately has been to watch the celebrities fall from a position of storybook success to the depths of humiliation, if not vile criminality. What else would account for the intense interest in Tonja Hardings contract to injure a rival skater or in O.J. Simpsons murder trial?
The world of electronically transmitted entertainment hangs like the Moon before peoples eyes, so close yet so far away. Though in some sense real, it cannot be personally touched. There once was a man from New York who regularly attended the live broadcast of a network radio show. Hoping to be discovered as a comic talent, he had memorized a number of snappy lines in case the host called upon a member of the audience to say something. He never was called upon. Americas premier industry, gambling, is built on the notion that, despite the unfavorable odds, I can be that one in a million who wins the lottery or jackpot. Millions of people are each willing to trade a small but real sum of money for the dubious chance of becoming a big winner. Phineas T. Barnums adage, Theres a sucker born every minute, sets the tone for this age. The master showman is not exactly deceiving us about his intentions. We are allowing ourselves to be deceived so long as this gives us and the children some good, clean fun.
The holiday tradition has carried into the fourth epoch in the form of seasonal entertainment features. As Christmas has had several previous incarnations, it is not surprising to find television shows such as the Bob Hope Christmas Special at this time of the year. Bing Crosbys White Christmas was the all-time bestselling record for five decades. Labor Day, transplanted from CivIII, has become known as a time when Jerry Lewis conducts his annual telethon to raise money for children who suffer from muscular dystrophy. New Years Day has become a time to watch collegiate football games and parades on network television. Superbowl Sunday is an example of a holiday established for purely entertainment purposes.
While it is much too soon to say what will be the religion of the coming epoch, one can identify some of its elements in the computer culture seen to date. It appears that the fifth civilization faces a situation opposite that of CivIV. While the personality aspect is weak, belief is strong. Everyone believes in computers. Computer intelligence is perfect and quick. If a mistake appears in the result of its calculations, this must be the fault of the human programmer or someone who fed faulty data into the system. Wall Street believes in computers. It has valued the stock of a 20-year-old computer-software company, Microsoft, more than General Motors and made its 40-year-old chairman the richest man on earth. Parents buy home computers for their children, hoping that they will pick up skills to ensure future employability. Corporate America believes that computers can improve product quality and customer service while reducing costs.
With respect to personality, the computer has none. Cartoonists may joke about its feelings and thoughts, but even robots have a more people-friendly image. The types of people who work with computers are quite unlike the supercharged, attractive persons who work in the entertainment industry. They are geeks and nerds who while away their lives at a computer terminal. Those reclusive individuals who are addicted to surfing the Internet should come out every once in awhile into the sunlight of real life and meet some people in the flesh. One imagines them, stereotypically, to be rather owlish individuals who click on pornographic Websites for excitement or send hate-filled messages to one another. Alternatively, there are the cyberpunks who are a type of juvenile delinquent armed with the technical knowledge to steal from the telephone company or invade corporate data bases. It might be possible to make heroes out of these malicious hackers in a perverse Robin Hood sort of way.
If self-made billionaires had an attractive personal image, then the computer industry has delivered more than its share of this commodity. That appears not to be the case. Instead, we must look elsewhere in the computer culture for models of personality. Perhaps this is to be found in Jennifer Ringleys enterprise. She is a 21-year-old woman living somewhere in Washington, D.C., who has installed a Quick Cam camera in her bedroom to record scenes from her daily life. She invites people to log on to her Website for regular photographic updates. Reportedly, this Website receives 100 million hits each week. Although there is some nudity, the chief attraction seems to be simple companionship.
The Internet is too diffuse to magnify personal images as the television networks do. Rather, its appeal is one of self-definition. Somewhere in the millions of E-mail addresses a person can find like-minded individuals, perhaps even soul mates, in each area of life. The trick is to know who we are and then learn to express our individual preferences and ideas to elicit a self-affirming response.