The central theme of all the world’s conflict is the world’s desire to have a just King with divine qualities, yet our rejection of the very idea such a King could even exist.
A Glimpse Into the World Today
There are many strong political movements which desire to influence the direction of the world’s future. Most of these movements are expressed in national or regional forms, but each share very common goals. One of the most common movements has been the secularization of rule. This secularization has led itself to modern democracies whose governments are based on the popular consent of the people or the popular consent of the people’s representatives under the umbrella of a secular constitution. This secularization has led itself to modern autocracies such as communist governments where rule is condensed to a single party representing the ideals of the commons. In both systems, power and authority are organized in a way where faith has no place in the affairs of state and nationalism is the primary goal.
The other common movements are those which have a religious foundation. Each movement believes power and authority must belong to a divine monarch representing their faith tradition. The variations of these movements are based on whether the monarch exists today, existed in the past, or will exist into the future. Sometimes there is a blend between the past, present, and today. Sometimes there are variations in methodology to establish this divine monarchy, such as the brutal tactics of ISIS. Sometimes the methodology is peaceful such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and sometimes they can be both peaceful and brutal such as the theocratic government of Iran.
All political movements can be presented under these two umbrellas. In each umbrellas there can be the political left, the political right, the moderates, and any other label you seek.
How Did These Two Movements Come to Be?
This is a very difficult question to answer. Sometimes I like to start from the present and work my way backwards, much like starting this post with the conclusion. We know what is today, but can we work our way to the origins? Being in the USA, I will focus on what I am familiar with which is mainly Western History for this segment.
The Revolutions Against European Monarchs
The 1700’s were a prolific century. It is this century when Europe and the Americas started to pivot quite forcefully against the rule of a King or Queen. A couple of the people I feel were highly influential in these movements were Benjamin Franklin and Voltaire. These two individuals were intelligent and extremely active in civic affairs. Benjamin Franklin lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA and is mostly known for being a businessman, inventor, writer, and diplomat. Voltaire is known mostly for being a writer, perhaps one of the most influential writers of the 18th century. The link I find both have, other than the fact they did meet in person once, is their deep reflections upon religion. I would say Voltaire was sometimes aggressive in his criticisms while Franklin would usually try to be the optimist towards religion. Both being products of the European Enlightenment, often would question the role religion should have in the affairs of both people and government. Both sought to explain why religious fanaticism existed, what is the purpose of religion, were the prophets divine, what is the benefit of religion, and what are the motivations of the leaders of religion. Both were described as being Deist, although both had strong relationships to Christianity. Both studied other faiths such as reading the Qur’an. Both felt religion should be a force of good but if it is not, should be eliminated.
Their harshest criticisms were of leaders who would use religion for power and wealth at the cost of a common person’s liberty and freedom. However, they both often criticized the common person’s religious belief as regularly being full of superstition instead of genuine education as to the “nature of creation.” Both came to the conclusions that a King could not be divine nor have authority from God if they sought to deny man liberty. This basic premise set the stage for powerful revolutions.
Another trait both men shared were philosophies which some have described as Hedonism, that is the pursuit of pleasure. They believed it was not wrong to partake in the luxuries and pleasures of life and it was of great economic benefit to all of society to pursue those pleasures. They still believed in virtues such as doing good for others. Pleasure must not come at the cost of another’s pleasure. The pursuit of happiness is the ultimate benefit of liberty. They believed God did not create pleasures merely for man to be denied therefrom nor to be punished for.
Epicurus was the leader of a Hellenistic period school in Greece which lasted from the 4th century BC to the 4th century AD. It was one of the longest lived philosophical schools from Greece and one of the longest in human history. Surprisingly, Epicurus is not very well-known. He had great admiration for the likes of Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates and built upon their foundations.
Epicurus was heavily focused on man’s ability to seek their own happiness and to not worry about the will of the gods. Some say he was an atheist, some say he was a hedonist, but I believe he highly reflected upon his relationship as man with that of the gods. He believed they were real but because man was made of atoms, they could not directly effect the affairs of man. This school of thought lasted surprisingly long given the growth of Rome, the adoption of Christianity by Rome, and the growing hatred towards Greek philosophy by the leaders of both Rome and Church.
The Epic of Gilgamesh
In this excerpt from the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest known forms of literature in the world, we see a similar dilemma.
She answered, ‘Gilgamesh, where are you hurrying to? You will never find that life for which you are looking. When the gods created man they allotted to him death, but life they retained in their own keeping. As for you, Gilgamesh, fill your belly with good things; day and night, night and day, dance and be merry, feast and rejoice. Let your clothes be fresh, bathe yourself in water, cherish the little child that holds your hand, and make your wife happy in your embrace; for this too is the lot of man.’ But Gilgamesh said to Siduri, the young woman, ‘How can I be silent, how can I rest, when Enkidu whom I love is dust, and I too shall die and be laid in the earth. You live by the sea-shore and look into the heart of it; young woman, tell me now, which is the way to Utnapishtim, the son of Ubara-Tutu? What directions are there for the passage; give me, oh, give me directions. I will cross the Ocean if it is possible; if it is not I will wander still farther in the wilderness.’ The winemaker said to him, ‘Gilgamesh, there is no crossing the Ocean; whoever has come, since the days of old, has not been able to pass that sea. The Sun in his glory crosses the Ocean, but who beside Shamash has ever crossed it? The place and the passage are difficult, and the waters of death are deep which flow between. Gilgamesh, how will you cross the Ocean? When you come to the waters of death what will you do? But Gilgamesh, down in the woods you will find Urshanabi, the ferryman of Utnapishtim; with him are the holy things, the things of stone. He is fashioning the serpent prow of the boat. Look at him well, and if it is possible, perhaps you will cross the waters with him; but if it is not possible, then you must go back.’
Gilgamesh, who is described as being the son of gods, is seeking eternal life. Instead, he his told to seek his happiness in the pleasures of life for they were created by the gods for man to enjoy. Gilgamesh fears death and finds it difficult to find purpose in life when loved ones and he himself will one day die. This relationship between mankind and divinity has existed since the dawn of human consciousness. What is the relationship God has with Man? Should we be concerned with who leads us or should we seek a virtuous leader? Gilgamesh did not find everlasting life, although he literally had it within his grasp. However, his destiny was to be a just and great King, one who would always be remembered with a great monument. This monument is the Epic itself.
I cannot find any earlier trace of a man seeking to answer what is the relationship between the divine, man, and those who rule man. You can see a common thread between the histories of Franklin and Voltaire, Epicurus, and Gilgamesh. Each believed in the Divine, each relied on their own intellect, each believed a true purpose in life is to enjoy what is in creation, each believed this pursuit of happiness is man’s true liberty, and each believed the Divine created all which we can enjoy in liberty. By the time we got to the 18th century, knowledge had grown to the point where man could devise a form of government whose sole purpose was to grant each individual the right to pursue what makes him/her happy. This was God’s will. Virtue was expressing this liberty in a way in no man would deprive another of the individual right to pursue what makes him/her happy.
With the United States having a government founded upon these principles for nearly 250 years, another change has taken place. Notice how in the Epic of Gilgamesh, only Shamash could cross the oceans. Shamash was a name given to the Sumerian sun-God who administered justice in the world. Today, not only can mankind cross the oceans, we can do so within hours. This is nearly as fast as Shamash could. Mankind today has the abilities which in ancient times and in the 18th century was described as divine. Mankind can travel as fast as the Earth spins and can even create intelligence. Mankind can split the atom and destroy itself while at the same time finding the remedies to countless sicknesses. Yet, in the nearly 250 years since Benjamin Franklin and Voltaire helped their people in their pursuit of liberty, liberty from being ruled by corrupt leaders who claim to be from God, we lost something.
We lost the hope that a King, divine in nature, could lead us. Religious fundamentalists fight for this cause, but as Voltaire would criticize, they are steeped in so much superstition and hatred they are a source of evil instead of good. The religious moderates seem to fear the very promise their Scriptures make about a just King ruling them. They believe in Krishna on his chariot, Moses on Mt. Sinai, Jesus on the cross, and Muhammad in the trenches of Medina. King Cyrus the Great, a Zoroastrian from Persia (Iran), is described by Jews as being anointed by God. These are examples of Kings among men who, despite being men, had their souls connected to the divine. As our hope for one of them to lead as King fades into the sunset, all we have left is ourselves.
Who Are We?
We are a people who are being ruled more by our pursuit of happiness than finding moderation in the virtues of yesterday. We spend our wealth, we spend our time, and we spend our passions continuously seeking the pleasures of luxury and entertainment. Unlike Franklin and Voltaire, we do not seek to make a life better for mankind and we do not seek incorruptible leadership. Unlike Epicurus we do not seek to moderate our pleasures so as to not cause ourselves or others pain. Unlike Gilgamesh we do not seek to live a destined life of righteous rule. We sought our own corruption and prefer those like us to rule us. We are a people who will go to a building, an internet forum, or where ever we can get public attention and say we long for the day for the divine King to come to us, to bring love, peace, and unity into this world. We are a people who, when that King would come to us, would immediately reject Him because love, peace, and unity will come at the cost of our infinite appetite for pleasure. We are a people who have the ability to be a King or Queen of our home and our family and the majority of us choose not to. We teach our children hatred, racism, superiority, and other forms of deceitful lies. We do so to validate ourselves, to continue to feel good about ourselves. We are becoming closer to our nature than becoming closer to our potentials.
All of the world’s conflict comes down to this central premise. We are each growing in our capabilities to have the qualities of the divine, yet we live a life where we have no respect for any higher authority. We believe there must be a future Divine King, but it will never be today. You replaced that King with yourself in your pursuit of happiness.
What Is the Consequence?
The very revolutions Voltaire and Franklin helped lead will be fruitless. As they sought to remove religion from government, they had no idea humanity, in its pursuit of happiness, would slowly destroy the revolutions they created. As our environment degrades, as our care for our neighbors decrease, as our civic engagement is replaced by 24 hours of entertainment, and as we replace the divine with ourselves, we are losing our liberties. We are losing the ability to work and live a decent livelihood, we are losing our ability to drink clean water, breathe clean air, to create, and most importantly, rely on each other for support. Our families are suffering from increased dysfunction, our churches, mosques, temples, and synagogues are no longer pillars of virtue but instead symbols of our own hypocrisy. Our local governments and echelons above are ruled by money and profit, not by the pursuit of individual liberty for all nor the mutual shared benefit of all. This is true throughout the world, from the USA, Haiti, the Congo, Greece, Russia, China, India, and everywhere in between. The entire world has succumbed to these effects.
We need to change. Let’s talk about what this change can look like.