Step 3. Greek Duality,
Around 2,500 years ago, and concentrated very much in
Greece and surrounding areas, a number of philosophers made important
contributions to western philosophy. A key element in the philosophy of Plato, Aristotle,
and dozens of others, was the idea of duality. Plato it was who synthesized
much of Greek thought into the dualism of body and soul.
Plato’s dualism however, was not value-free. Plato
prized and privileged the soul over the body. He envisaged the soul as being
trapped in the prison of the body. In one of his Dialogues Plato writes
that, ‘we must get rid of the body and contemplate things by themselves with
the soul by itself.’ The body, and by inference, all nature, was to Plato
of little worth in this dualistic conception.
Plato’s student, Aristotle, was forthright in his
conclusion that, ‘it must be that nature has made all things for the sake of
The Greek philosophers took us another step away from
nature, and their dualistic thought quickly transformed spiritual ideas and
Step 4. Patriarchy, and Sky-gods
Greek dualistic thinking was being developed during roughly
the same time period as the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old
Testament) was being written. The influence of dualistic thinking on the writers of
those texts should not be underestimated. Along with the undeniable fact that close
to 100% of writing at this time (in both Greece and the Middle East) was
undertaken by men, there was little impeding the step away from Earth-based
gods and goddesses, towards sky-gods who were predominantly male in concept.
In doing so, the Earth and nature-based goddesses
(primarily) were being systematically debased, disregarded, and discounted.
None moreso perhaps, than Gaia (the personification of Earth in Greek
mythology) driven out of human beliefs by the arrival of the sky-gods and later
monotheism. More latterly though, Gaia has made somewhat of a rebirth via the Gaia
hypothesis co-formulated by chemist James Lovelock and microbiologist Lynn
Margulis in the 1970s.1
Not only were goddesses being banished, but, centuries
later, so too were those who remained loyal to the natural rhythms of the world
and the female spirits that dwelt in nature. From the middle of the 15th
century through to the middle of the 17th century, in Europe, it is
estimated that up to 60,000 witches (predominantly women) were burnt, hung, or
drowned because of their holding to the cycles of nature and the reciprocity in
Patriarchal thinking along with the dualism of
body/soul (or body/mind) took the cultures of Europe and south-west Asia
another step away from connection with nature.
Step 5. Monotheism and Transcendence
For many thousands of years the peoples living in
Mesopotamia, the Levant, SW Asia, Egypt, and the eastern Mediterranean had been
worshipping a number of gods and goddesses. The emergence of male-dominated
sky-gods (referenced in the previous section) foreshadowed the appearance, in
the first millennium BCE of monotheism.
The single God of the Bible appears to have been the
joining together of two gods: Yahweh, a warrior god of the Levant, and El,
the father of all other gods in Canaanite pantheons. From beginnings as
pantheism, religion in this part of the world moved through polytheism, to
monolatry (the practice of worshipping one god, but recognising that others
exist) to an out-and-out monotheism and rejection of all other theologies. The
prophet Isiah, for example, writes, ‘I am the Lord, and there is no other:
There is no God beside me.’
This creed – that there is one and only one god –
seems to have emerged only in this part of the world. The Biblical scholar, j.
Snodgrass, a little sardonically, remarks that, ‘In three million years of
humanity on earth, the idea that a father-god did it all himself popped up in (just)
one spot three thousand years ago.’2
However, it wasn’t simply monotheism that took us a
further step away from nature. It was the notion of transcendence that came
with it, leading towards the idea that paradise was no longer here on earth,
but was located in Heaven and the after-life.
(An aside: There is a scene in the doco-film Living
In The Time Of Dying3 in which the Native American elder and
author, Stan Rushworth, is being interviewed by the film’s host, who is of
European heritage. In answer to a question, Stan wryly declares, ‘We are
born into Paradise, you guys were kicked out.’ It is a poignant comment on
the difference between the worldview of many indigenous and nature-based
peoples and that of the dominant culture that arose in Europe and SW Asia.)
The denial of Paradise on Earth was a further step
dislocating us from nature and intensified Plato’s distaste for the body.
Although those living during the first millenium BCE
and the first millenium CE probably did not consider monotheism as having a
significant impact upon how we related to the earth, the magnitude of the step
can be clearly seen from our present-day privilege of hindsight.
Next weeks blog will consider the last two steps
leading us away from a connection with nature: The Reformation and the
1. The Gaia hypothesis proposes that the Earth is
a living, single, self-regulating, synergistic, complex system.
2. j. Snodgrass, Genesis And The Rise Of Civilization,
3. Available for viewing at https://www.livinginthetimeofdying.com/ See also, my review of the film here.