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3. Man-Worship: The Idolization of Parochial Communities

Man-Worship: The Idolization of Parochial Communities1

Most of the societies that have embarked on the enterprise of Civilization so far have started life on the political plane as mosaics of parochial states. This has been the regular original structure of the civilizations of the third generation, which have arisen since the beginning of the Christian Era and whose early history is sufficiently well documented for us to be able to trace their institutions back to their origins. Since we find the same dispensation prevalent in the civilizations of the first and second generations, at the dates when the curtain rises on their histories, we may infer that, in these too, the mosaic of parochial states is an original feature. This political structure of the civilizations in their early days has its counterpart on the religious plane. In the civilizations of all three generations, at the earliest dates to which their surviving records take us back, the parochial communities into which a society is articulated in its first phase are not only the predominant political institutions; they are also the predominant objects of worship.

This worship of one’s own collective human power, as embodied in a parochial community and organized in a parochial state, has been in truth the master religion in the civilizations of the third generation, as well as in those of the first and second. But in the civilizations of the third generation the worshippers of parochial communities have shrunk from avowing that their allegiance to these gods in collective human form (France, Britannia, and the like) is paramount over their allegiance to one of the higher religions, because the civilizations of the third generation are younger than the higher religions and have each started life under the aegis of one or other of them. On the other hand the civilizations of the first two generations, to which we shall be confining our attention in the First Part of this book, all arose before any of the higher religions had made their appearance. Here too, the worship of parochial communities had to win its way at the expense of another religion that had previously held the field, but the traditional religion in this case was Nature-worship; and Man-worship was able to establish its ascendancy over Nature-worship without having to pay tribute to the subordinated religion by camouflaging itself. In this earlier religious revolution, there was no feeling that the old religion and the new religion were incompatible, and there was therefore no awareness that a revolution was taking place. Accordingly, in the civilizations of the first and second generations, at the earliest dates to which we can trace their histories back, we find Primitive Man’s legacy of Nature-worship not only coexisting with, but associated with, an undisguised worship of the parochial communities into which the nascent civilization has articulated itself.

In Egypt, for example, we find the worships of the Sun, the Corn, and the Nile surviving side by side with the self-worship of the cantons.2 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 liturgy embedded in the Confucian Classics, and 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 and of the oecumenical empire by which they were superseded. In Canaan we find the worship of fertility-gods, the ba’als and the ashtoroths, and the agricultural rites embedded in the Pentateuch, surviving side by side with the self-worship of the city-states and cantons. In Hellas we find—for example, at Athens—the annual agricultural festivals—Thesmophoria, Anthesteria, Dionysia and the rest—surviving side by side with the self-worship of the local city-state which, at Athens, is projected on to the goddess Athene.

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. There are, it is true some deifications of parochial communities—for instance, Asshur and Romulus—in which the community-god bears the community’s name and has therefore presumably never had any previous other function, but has been called into existence expressly in order to play his political role. Such artificially fabricated community-gods seem, however, to be exceptional. Most of the historic parochial community-gods bear marks of having been in existence already as Nature-gods before they were given the additional role of serving as gods representing human communities.

In Attica, Athene continued to be the patroness of olive-cultivation after she had been turned into Athena Polias—the deification of a parochial human community that took its name from her (for the names ‘Athens’ and ‘Athenians’ are derived from the name ‘Athene’; it is not the goddess that is named after them). Yahweh, on the evidence of the traditional account of the making of the Covenant between Yahweh and Israel on Sinai, would appear to have been a volcano-god or a weather-god before he was adopted to serve as the war-god of a confederacy of nomad tribes. Amon-Re, who came to be a deification of the Thebaid and consequently of an Egyptian oecumenical empire, was a combination of the Sun-god, Re, with Amon, ‘the Breath of Life’,3 whose generative power was symbolized in the portrayal of him as a ram. The gods representing the cantons out of which the Egyptian United Kingdom and the Egyptian Empire were successively built up seem originally to have been totems representing aspects of Nature on which their worshippers had once depended for their livelihood. This conscription of Nature-gods to serve also as community-gods put their worshippers at their ease by ensuring that Nature and Society should work in harmony; and the maintenance of this harmony seems to have been the principal objective of religious institutions and rites in Egypt and Sumer, the two civilizations of the first generation of which we have the least imperfect knowledge.4

The process by which parochial-community-worship has been imposed on a previously established religion may thus have been different in the histories of civilizations of different generations, but one unhappy consequence has been the same. In all cases, the victory of parochial-community-worship has worked havoc. In the earlier of the two occurrences of the religious revolution, in which the subordinated religion was some form of an ancient Nature-worship, the havoc-making effect of the victory of parochial-community-worship was to turn Polytheism into a destructively explosive force.

Nature-worship is a polytheistic religion ex hypothesis because Man worships Nature on account of her still being intractable to him, and she is this only so long as he has not yet detected the fundamental unity and simplicity and regularity underlying her superficial diversity and multiplicity and capriciousness. But in an agricultural society a polytheistic worship of Nature does not drive the worshippers of different Nature-gods into war with one another. A fratricidal strife does arise, it is true, between farmer Cain, the worshipper of Nature the giver of crops, shepherd Abel the worshipper of Nature the giver of flocks, and huntsman Nimrod the worshipper of Nature the giver of game. Recent incidents in this warfare have been the corralling of the Eurasian Nomads by the Muscovite and Manchu champions of Sedentary Civilization in the eighteenth century of the Christian Era, and the North American farmer’s successive wars of extermination, in the nineteenth century, against the Indian hunter and the Texan cattleman. But this strife between the worshippers of Nature in these different aspects of her bountifulness to Man has been no more than a minor theme in the history of Man in Process of Civilization. This is because no civilization has subsisted by hunting and only one has subsisted by stock-breeding; all the others have subsisted by agriculture; and, in an agricultural society, there is no inevitable conflict between the worshippers of an olive-goddess, a corn-goddess, and a wine-god. The same husbandman will worship all three agricultural divinities because he will be cultivating all three crops.

There is no inevitable conflict, either, between the worshippers of the same agricultural divinities in different parochial communities. So far from setting them at variance, their common agricultural religion is a bond between them. Though the crops and the technique for coaxing them out of the Earth will vary from place to place according to the differences in the local soil and climate, there will everywhere be the same annually recurrent experience of hope and anxiety regarding the outcome of the husbandman’s activity. This activity is the cult of a divinity as well as the cultivation of a plant, because the success that is indispensable for Homo Agricola’s survival is dependent only partly on what is done by the husbandman himself, and depends, for the rest, upon Nature’s mysterious activities. The common religion answering to this common experience will draw together all worshippers of Demeter and Dionysus everywhere. A Mexican peasant would have felt himself at home at an Attic festival in honour of the wheat-goddess, and an Attic peasant at a Mexican festival in honour of the maize-god; and neither of them would have felt himself a stranger even in the rice-eating half of the World, where loaves and tortillas are unknown.

Unhappily, Polytheism begins to produce new and pernicious social effects when its domain is extended from the realm of Nature-worship to a province of the realm of Man-worship in which the object of worship is parochial collective human power. Local worships of deified parochial communities inevitably drive their respective devotees into war with one another. Whereas Demeter our common Mother Earth is the same goddess in Attica and in Laconia, the Athene Polias of Athens and the Athana Chalcioecus of Sparta, who are the respective deifications of these two parochial communities, are bound to be rival goddesses in spite of their bearing the same name. The worship of Nature tends to unite the members of different communities because it is not self-centred; it is the worship of a power in whose presence all human beings have the identical experience of being made aware of their own human weakness. On the other hand the worship of parochial communities tends to set their respective members at variance because this religion is an expression of self-centredness; because self-centredness is the source of all strife; and because the collective ego is a more dangerous object of worship than the individual ego is.

The collective ego is more dangerous because it is more powerful, more demonic, and less patently unworthy of devotion. The collective ego combines the puny individual power of each of its devotees into the collective power of Leviathan. This collective power is at the mercy of subconscious passions because it escapes the control of the Intellect and Will that put some restraint on the individual ego. And bad behaviour that would be condemned unhesitatingly by the conscience in an individual culprit is apt to be condoned when it is perpetrated by Leviathan, under the illusion that the first person is absolved from self-centredness by being transposed from the singular number into the plural. This is, however, just the opposite of the truth; for, when an individual projects his self-centredness on to a community, he is able, with less sense of sin, to carry his egotism to greater lengths of enormity. ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel’;5 and the callousness of committees testifies still more eloquently than the fury of mobs that, in collective action, the ego is capable of descending to depths to which it does not fall when it is acting on its individual responsiblity.

The warfare to which parochial-community-worship leads is apt to rankle, sooner or later, into war to the death; and this self-inflicted doom is insidious, because the ultimately fatal effects of this religion are slow to reveal themselves and do not become unmistakably clear till the mischief has become mortally grave.

In its first phase the warfare between deified parochial states is usually waged in a temperate spirit and is confined within moderate limits. In this first phase the worshippers of each parochial god recognize in some degree that each neighbour parochial god is the legitimate sovereign in his own territory. Each local god will be deemed to have both the right and the power to punish alien human trespassers on his domain who commit a grievous wrong against him by committing it against his people; and this consideration counsels caution and restraint in waging war on foreign soil. It tends to prevent war from becoming total. The bashful invader will refrain, not only from desecrating the enemy’s temples, but from poisoning his wells and from cutting down his fruit trees. The Romans, when they had made up their minds to go to all lengths in warring down an enemy community, used to take the preliminary precautions of inviting the enemy gods to evacuate the doomed city and of tempting them to change sides by offering them, in exchange, honourable places in the Roman pantheon. When a local community has been exterminated or deported in defiance of the local divinity and without regard to his sovereign prerogatives, the outraged parochial god may bring the usurpers of his domain and scorners of his majesty to heel by making the place too hot to hold them except on his terms. The colonists planted by the Assyrian Government on territory that had been cleared of its previous human occupants by the deportation of the Children of Israel soon found, to their cost, that Israel’s undeported god Yahweh had lost none of his local potency; and they had no peace till they took to worshipping this very present local god instead of the gods that they had brought with them from their homelands.6

Thus the conduct of war between parochial states is kept within bounds, at the start, by a common belief in the equality of sovereign parochial gods, each within his own domain. But this belief is apt to break down, and, with it, the restraint that is imposed by it. They break down because the self-worship of a parochial community is essentially incompatible with the moderation commended in such maxims as ‘Live and let live’ and ‘Do as you would be done by’. Every form of Man-worship is a religious expression of self-centredness, and is consequently infected with the intellectual mistake and the moral sin of treating a part of the Universe as if it were the whole—of trying to wrest the Universe round into centring on something in it that is not and ought not to be anything more than a subordinate part of it. Since self-centredness is innate in every living creature, it wins allegiance for any religion that ministers to it. It also inhibits any living creature that fails to break away from it from loving its neighbour as itself, and a total failure to achieve this arduous moral feat has a disastrous effect on social relations.

A further reason why it is difficult to keep the warfare between parochial states at a low psychological temperature is because parochial-community-worship wins devotion not only by ministering disastrously to self-centredness. It wins it also by giving a beneficent stimulus to Man’s nobler activities in the first chapter of the story. In the histories of most civilizations in their first chapters, parochial states have done more to enrich their members’ lives by fostering the arts than they have done to impoverish them by taking a toll of blood and treasure. For example, the rise of the Athenian city-state made life richer for its citizens by creating the Attic drama out of a primitive fertility-ritual before life was made intolerable for them by a series of ever more devastating wars between Athens and her rivals. The earlier Athens that had been ‘the education of Hellas’7 won and held the allegiance of Athenian men and women, over whom she had cast her spell, for the benefit of the later Athens that was ‘a tyrant power’;8 and, though these two arrogant phrases were coined to describe Athens’ effect on the lives of the citizens of other Hellenic city-states, they describe her effect on the lives of her own citizens no less aptly. This is the tragic theme of Thucydides’ history of the Great Atheno-Peloponnesian War, and there have been many other performances of the same tragedy that have not found their Thucydides.

The strength of the devotion that parochial-community-worship thus evokes holds its devotees in bondage to it even when it is carrying them to self-destruction; and so the warfare between contending parochial states tends to grow more intense and more devastating in a crescendo movement. Respect for one’s neighbours’ gods and consideration for these alien gods’ human proteges are wasting assets. All parochial-community-worship ends in a worship of Moloch, and this ‘horrid king’9 exacts more cruel sacrifices than the Golden Calf. War to the death between parochial states has been the immediate external cause of the breakdowns and disintegrations of almost all, if not all, the civilizations that have committed suicide up to date. The decline and fall of the First Mayan Civilization is perhaps the only doubtful case.

The devotion to the worship of Moloch is apt to persist until it is too late to save the life of the civilization that is being destroyed by it. It does break down at last, but not until a stage of social disintegration has been reached at which the blood-tax exacted by the waging of ever more intensive, ferocious, and devastating warfare has come palpably to outweigh any cultural and spiritual benefits that the contending parochial states may once have conferred on their citizens. At this stage there is apt to be a revulsion from an infatuation with parochialism to a horror of it. The ruin that their civilization has now unmistakably brought upon itself by parochial-coinmunity-worship disgusts the members of the afflicted society with Polytheism of all kinds, and men’s and women’s hearts are now ready to transfer their religious allegiance to some object of worship that will give them peace by uniting them, and that will unite them in virtue of being, itself, unitary and universal. But the rejection of discredited parochial gods does not decide the question what monistic religion shall be adopted, in place of them, from among three alternatives that offer themselves.

After Nature-worship has been overlaid by parochial-community-worship, and after this has been found by experience to be materially disastrous and morally evil, the radical alternative is to renounce, not only Nature-worship, but also Man-worship in any form, and to turn towards an Absolute Reality that is beyond, as well as in, both Man and Nature. The possibility of such a new spiritual departure is opened up by the epiphany of the higher religions, which arise, as we shall see, in times of troubles precipitated by breakdowns and disintegrations of civilizations through the intensification of the warfare between idolized parochial states. But these higher religions make their entry into Society from below upwards, and the dominant minority—even in adversity and even after it has come to be disillusioned with its own ancestral institutions—is either unaware of these new religious movements in the ranks of the proletariat or, if vaguely aware of them, is hostile to them. It is prejudiced against them by their proletarian source and by their exotic appearance; and, at a deeper level of feeling, it is repelled by their acceptance of suffering as an opportunity and a means for bringing good out of evil. Rather than turn to the nascent higher religions, the dominant minority tries to fill the spiritual vacuum, left by the discrediting of parochial-community-worship, with some other form of Man-worship; and two alternative forms of this present themselves.

The line of least resistance for disillusioned ex-devotees of parochial-community-worship is to replace their fallen idols by another idol of the same genus but a different species, namely, an oecumenical community under whose all-embracing aegis Mankind can look forward to living in peace and concord as a single family. This alternative collective form of Man-worship now lies ready to hand, because the political result of the destruction of the parochial states by one another, and of their forfeiture of the devotion of their citizens, is to leave a single oecumenical empire master of the field. This oecumenical empire can claim the allegiance that the parochial states have lost, because it has brought to Mankind the universal peace for which everyone has been longing throughout the generations or centuries during which the now shattered and discredited parochial states have been bringing, not peace, but the sword.

The oecumenical empires that have risen and fallen hitherto have none of them been literally world-wide. The Chinese Empire and the Roman Empire, for example, lived side by side for more than two centuries without ever coming into direct contact with one another. A literally oecumenical state was not a practical possibility before ‘the annihilation of distance’ by Modern Western technology. But the Chinese Empire, the Roman Empire, and their kind have been oecumenical in a psychological sense. They have embraced within their borders the whole of a society which had previously been parcelled out among a number of parochial states perpetually at war with one another. In bringing unity and, with unity, peace to an entire society, the Roman Empire and the Chinese Empire have been states of a new sort, and they may prove to have been forerunners of a future world-state covering the whole habitable and traversable surface of the planet.

Besides the worship of an oecumenical state, there is a second form of Man-worship which may be adopted as a substitute for the worship of a parochial community, and this is the worship of Man, not in any collective form at all, but in the individual form of the spiritually self-sufficient philosopher—the hero who has found spiritual strength to stand alone, out in the cold, when the parochial state that has housed his ancestors for so many generations has fallen, in fearful ruin, about his and his contemporaries’ ears.

These two alternative forms of Man-worship need to be examined before we go on to observe the epiphany of the higher religions.

3 Annexe: ‘Moloch’ and Molk

‘Moloch’ or ‘Molech’—taken to mean ‘God worshipped as king’—is a household word for Jews and Christians who are familiar with either the original or a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures in what has come to be their canonical recension.

First Moloch, horrid king, besmeared with blood

Of human sacrifice and parents’ tears,

Though, for the noise of drums and timbrels loud,

Their children’s cries unheard, that passed through fire

To his grim idol.

Thus, in Jewry and Christendom, ‘Moloch-worship’ is an apt symbol for the parochial-community-worship that exacts from its worshippers an ever increasing toll of blood.

The rite of sacrificing one’s first-born son by burning him alive was, in truth, practised both in Canaan and in the Canaanite colonies overseas in North-West Africa. There is literary evidence of the practice for Israel, Moab, Judah, and Carthage; and for Carthage there is archaeological evidence as well.

For Israel, we have the saga of Jephthah’s sacrifice of his daughter (Judges xi. 29–40) and the account of the rebuilding of Jericho by King Ahab’s officer Hiel, who ‘laid the foundations thereof in Abiram his firstborn and set up the gates thereof in his youngest son Segub’ (1 Kings xvi. 34). When Moab was being hard pressed by the united forces of Israel, Judah, and Edom, Mesha King of Moab ‘took his eldest son that should have reigned in his stead, and offered him for a burnt offering upon the wall’ (2 Kings iii. 27). In Judah, King Ahaz (reigned circa 741–725 B.C.) and King Manasseh (reigned circa 696–641 B.C.) are recorded each to have ‘made his son pass through the fire’ (2 Kings xvi. 3 and xxi. 6).

In Judah, from at least as early as the eighth century B.C., the rite seems to have become controversial. According to Isa. xxx. 33, the sacrificial pyre at Tophet, in the valley of Hinnom, just outside the walls of Jerusalem, is kindled by the breath of the Lord ‘like a stream of brimstone’. But the rite is denounced by Amos (v. 26); and Jeremiah, in three passages (vii. 31; xix. 5; xxxii. 35), makes Yahweh expressly reject the imputation that He had commanded it. Before Jeremiah’s day, the rite had been abolished, and the sanctuary at Tophet had been desecrated, by King Josiah (reigned circa 639–608 B.C.). The rite is forbidden in Lev. xviii. 21 and xx. 2–5. It is denounced in Ezek. xvi. 20–1 and in Deut.—Isa. lvii. 5; and in Ezek. xx. 25–6 it is cited as one of the ‘statutes that were not good’ which Yahweh had given to His people because they had despised the statutes which He had given them previously. An unanswerable verdict on the rite is given in a passage appended to the Book of the Prophet Micah: ‘Shall I give my first-born for my transgression? The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ (Mic. vi. 7).

At Carthage, the local tophet has been discovered by modern Western archaeologists. It stretches in a narrow belt, several hundred yards in length, along the shore of the harbour;10 and its location and stratification suggest that it dates from the foundation of the city. Among the literary records of the practice of the rite at Carthage are the saga of the tyrant Malchus’s sacrifice of his son Carthalon, the priest of Melqart,11 and the account of the sacrifice of 200 children, levied from the leading families of the Carthaginian oligarchy in 310 B.C.,12 when Carthage was as gravely menaced by Agathocles’ invasion as Moab had been, in Mesha’s day, by Jehoram’s.

The two earliest inscriptions so far discovered in the tophet at Carthage run nesib molk Ba’al, and this formula has been interpreted as meaning ‘stele (commemoration) of a sacrifice to Ba’al (Hammon)’. If this interpretation of the word molk as meaning a sacrifice (of one’s own child) is correct, it is possible that Moloch or Molech—’ God the King’—who figures in certain passages of what is now the canonical recension of the Bible (e.g., in Lev. xviii. 21 and xx. 2, and in 1 Kings xi. 5 and 7, and in 2 Kings xxiii. 10), may be the product of an error in the pointing of the word molk in the massoretic text. However that may be, it seems certain that the sacrifice of one’s own child by burning alive, or, as in the Malchus saga, by crucifixion, was a Canaanite practice; that such human sacrifices were made to the gods Yahweh of Israel and Judah, Chemosh of Moab, and Ba’al Hammon of Carthage; and that the rite itself was called molk.

The child that was sacrificed by its father was perhaps a substitute for the father himself; for a Carthaginian instance of self-sacrifice is recorded by Herodotus (Book VII, chaps. 166–7), in his account of the battle between the Carthaginians and the Siceliot Greeks at Himera in 480 B.C. When the battle went against the Carthaginians, their commander, Hamilcar, is reported to have thrown himself into the flames of the pyre on which he had been sacrificing less precious victims. Whether or no the child-victim was a substitute for its father, there is conclusive evidence that, in both Israel and Carthage, the practice eventually arose of reprieving the child-victim by the substitution of an animal. In the religious history of Israel we have an echo of this innovation in the myth of the substitution of the ram for Isaac (Gen. xxii. 1–19). In the religious history of Carthage, molk omor, the sacrifice of a lamb in lieu of a child, is known to have been practised before the destruction of Carthage in 146 B.C. and to have become common form under the subsequent Roman régime. In the upper levels of the tophet at Carthage, many of the urns contain the remains of animals, not of children, and figures of animals—presumably representing the victims—appear on the stelae.13 Yet human sacrifice, which was abolished as early as the seventh century B.C. in Judah, lingered on in the North-African Canaan overseas till at least as late as the reign of the Emperor Tiberius, and perhaps till as late as the third century of the Christian Era.14

A rite which is practised by human beings is often attributed by them to the gods whom they worship; and in the Phoenician mythology we find one of the sons of the god El being sacrificed by El himself to his father the sky god (according to Philo of Byblos) and another of El’s sons, Mot, being sacrificed, in the form of a corn spirit, by the goddess ‘Anat (according to the mythological poems discovered at Ras-ash-Shamrah).15 This Canaanite picture of the divine economy re-emerges, perhaps from a Galilaean source, in Christian theology. God the Son, whose body is bread and whose blood is wine, sacrifices Himself to God the Father as a lamb whose death redeems Mankind.

  • 1.

    The subject of this chapter has been dealt with in greater detail by the writer in A Study of History, vol. iv, pp. 156–90, 206–22, 263–91, 303–20; vol. ix, pp. 7–8, 234–87.

  • 2.

    Usually called ‘nomes’ by Modern Western archaeologists, because ‘nomós’ was the Greek word into which the Ancient Egyptian word had been translated.

  • 3.

    See Frankfort, H., Kingship and the Gods (Chicago 1948, University of Chicago Press), p. 160.

  • 4.

    See Frankfort, op. cit., passim

  • 5.

    Dr. Johnson on the 7th April, 1775 (Boswell’s Life).

  • 6.

    See 2 Kings xvii. 24–41.

  • 7.

    Thucydides, Book II, chap. 41.

  • 8.

    Thucydides, Book III, chap. 37.

  • 9.

    Milton, Paradise Lost, Book I. See also the Annexe to the present chapter on pp. 37–40, below.

  • 10.

    Charles-Picard, G., Les Religions de l’Afrique Antique (Paris 1954, Plon), pp. 28–9, with the plans on pp. 48–51. Cp. Dussaud, R., ‘La Religion des Phéniciens’, in ‘Mana’: Introduction a l’Histoire des Religions, I: Les Anciennes Religions Orientales, ii (Paris 1949, Presses Universaires de France), pp. 383–4.

  • 11.

    Justin, Epitoma Historiarum Philippicarum Pompei Trogi, Book xviii, chap. 7 (the name Malchus is an emendation of the Maleus and Maceus of the MSS.).

  • 12.

    Diodorus of Agyrium, A Library of History, Book II, chap. 14.

  • 13.

    Charles-Picard, op. cit., pp. 49–50.

  • 14.

    The dating depends on the interpretation of an ambiguous passage in Tertullian’s Apologeticus, chap. 9.

  • 15.

    See Charles-Picard, op. cit., p. 43.