Episode:Evolutionary Religion—Fetishes and Magic (Part 2)

From Symmetry of Soul

The Israelites never gave up the peculiar Canaanite belief in the stone altar. They truly believed that the spirit of their God dwelt in such altars, which were in reality fetishes. The practice of opening a sacred book to let the eye chance upon a passage, the following of which may determine important life decisions or projects, is nothing more nor less than arrant fetishism.

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Keywords: Urantia, Religion, Idols, Totems, Relics

Summary by Kermit

Commentary on the Review

We underscored a question posed in the review trying to imagine what on earth a society of adults of God, who have transcended the Jesus cult would look like. One of our SoS co-hosts reminded us that the roots of fetishism run deep and are operative in daily life today with a charming story about a family furniture piece. All of which testifies to the degree that we are attached to material objects. And each individual must transcend this attachment in the quest for the higher substance, “spirit” personally. Remember here that transcendence means going above while remaining connected to that which is below. The religion of the spirit is neither natural nor innate in us. We must seek it purposefully, avoiding the illusions that it is to be found in matter or mind.

88:2. Evolution of the Fetish

The belief that ghosts preferred to indwell personal possessions from their days in the flesh accounts for the efficacy of many modern relics. Man’s rationalistic tendencies explain the elevation of the fetish of the savage to a position of respectability in today’s religious practices. Only primitives believe in fetishes and magic, but we moderns find relics and miracles acceptable, leaving the basic ancient concept of fetishism intact. Examining the issue of the miracle, we note the etymology of miracle leads back to wonder. According to the revelators, miracle refers to “the operation of universal laws beyond our understanding” [120:4.5]. The challenge to each of us is, do we recognize the miracle as having a logical potential with underlying, albeit not understood actual mechanisms or do we simply regard the miraculous as magic? Check out the wineskins you use! They probably need an upgrade. Note that courage is not natural, fear is natural.

Fetishes evolved up from the sacred spot of the hearth to shrines and temples where the dead were buried. Moses established the “tent of meeting” and the Israelites perpetuated the Canaanite belief in the stone altar, in reality a fetish, where the spirit of God was believed to dwell. Recalling the initial idea that fetishism is an ancient and honorable belief we are to think respectfully concerning the Hebrews early practices in these matters.

Idols served to preserve the likeness and memory of the once famous dead. They became refined fetishes, and when consecrated the spirit was induced to enter therein. Ceremonies of blessing elevated objects to charms, a type of spirit tool for a specific purpose. Looking elsewhere in the revelation we find the word charm and charming to be used liberally and in a positive sense according to its variety of meanings, even suggestive of the phenomenon of spirit gravity. Moses, in his attempt to control and reduce fetish worship added the commandment forbidding the production of graven images, thus retarding and stultifying art among the Hebrews. Even so he wisely consented to including certain fetish relics with the law in the ark, thereby adopting evolutional progress instead of the disruptive sudden revolutionary replacement of all olden fetishes.

With increasing abstraction, words became fetishes, paving the way for enshrining the supposed words of God in sacred books, fetishistic prisons incarcerating the spiritual imagination of man. Moses’ effort against fetishes became itself a supreme fetish. A particular pernicious influence cited by the revelators concerning sacred books is the troublesome belief that what is in the sacred book is true, and further that every truth is contained therein.

The revelators’ commentary on sacred books should be cautionary indeed for students of the 5th ER. They save some of their harshest remarks for the doctrinal fetish. And the doctrinal fetish is not limited to the domain of religion but can be found in a wide array of secular ideologies. The revelators’ description of using a sacred book for divination through random selection of passages should give all a cause to pause, as it is labeled arrant fetishism. But as so often happens with evolutionary advances the step forward from the fetish fear of a savage’s fingernail trimmings to the adoration of a sacred book reflecting the winnowed moral wisdom of many centuries does represent real evolutionary progress.

We touched on the issue of inspired writings and attempted to clarify how this applies to the 5th ER. The authors clearly state that the cosmology of the 5th ER is NOT inspired and as such does not represent the existential final picture of reality. Its authority stems from the fact that the authors know whereof they speak. The truth cannot be defined with words. Reflection on the words of the revelation lead to finding the spirit of the revelation.

88:3. Totemism

Examining our evolutionary sequence with fetishes from stones through idolatry, cannibalism, and nature worship we come to totemism. Totemism combines social and religious observances and symbolized both the group and their god. In a very rudimentary sense the totem can be likened to the individuality of the whole wherein individuals are enabled to connect with other individuals within the whole of the group.

Totemism made its way into civilized society in the form of flags, a symbol enabling the visualization of the unity aspect of the group. Totemism goes beyond the sacred to include the secular. Even democracy has been made into a fetish. The elevation of the common man’s ideas, individually considered to be of little worth, but collectively called “public opinion”, is held to be the arbiter of justice and the standard of righteousness, regardless of its value.

Notes by Brad

  • We are naturally bound to material objects. We will exalt that binding. It's quite unnatural to transcend this. Even with something as simple as a Hoosier Cabinet passed down from your grandmother.
    • An antique family relic (heirloom) isn't the Ark of the Covenant, but it still quite naturally makes you feel a certain way. It's very effective in that way.

  • Miracles are mostly synonymous with magic in our minds.
    • So why are miracles described as occurring, in Part 4 of The Urantia Book?
    • Go back to its etymology. "Something of wonder." The working of laws beyond our understanding.
    • But don't overplay veneration of the unknowable. That's problematic, too.
    • A logical mind can use the word miracle in truth. There are indeed mysteries in the cosmos that, when contemplated, invoke wonder.
    • So it's okay. Just avoid the old wineskin where "miracle" is a synonym for "magic."

  • A common, flawed line of thought: "That which is good is that which gives me a pleasant feeling. There must be spirit involved." Perhaps even about a wood-burning stove in an unexamined way.

  • Transcend, don't repress. Stand above but still related to that which is below.
    • But have a valid concept of transcendental. Ensure it isn't about being entirely apart. Don't have a fancy animal definition of transcendental.

  • Idols were an evolutionary improvement over fetishes, because they made people aspire to excellence. The best possible carving, say, so that the god would dwell in it.
  • There's a truth to the word charm as well. In a true sense it can indicate spirit gravity.
    • But chanting to try to charm something, that's an old wineskin. You need a better definition of charm.

  • Doctrines and ideologies come in religious and secular forms.
  • You cannot get to the real God if you're divining sacred texts by seeing what random page they open to. There's fairly a withering critique of this "arrant fetishism."
    • "Oops," say most honest longtime readers of Bible or The Urantia Book.

  • The 5th ER isn't authoritative because it is inspired (that would tend toward fetishistic thinking). It's authoritative because the authors know whereof they speak.
    • And also remember that truth cannot be defined with words. You find truth reflectively through the words.

  • How is a totem different from a fetish? In a totem, not only is the spirit (ghost) in it, but the spirit of the people (clan) somehow is in it, too.
    • The totem is perhaps an early expression of the individuality of the whole, as we are fond of quoting.
    • And a totem not touching the ground (getting dirty) is pointing to a sense of purity: the continuum of unity.
    • Breaking unity: divide and conquer in battle. Another reason a flag is prohibited from touching the ground.