Stonehenge Step Aside (plus God)
September 28, 2011 25 Comments
11,600 years ago — 7,000 years before Stonehenge — humans built an elaborate temple. They had no writing. They had no metal. They had no pottery. They didn’t even have wheels to aid construction. But they had some kind of yearning.
The site is Gobekli Tepe, in southeastern Turkey.
The temple is impossible. The humans foraging for food at the time had no way to undertake such a construction, or to haul the massive stones from a distance, or even to stay in one place long enough to think about constructing a temple.
But there it is. Our origins are a massive multiplying mystery.
Let’s think about God and His chronology.
11,600 years ago, human hunter-gatherers on the border of the Ice Age build a temple, having (to our knowledge) never built anything more complicated than a hut. This is a sacred outreach, a spectacular superfluity in the teeth of challenging Neolithic survival. Nothing seems necessary about the temple, in the way that huts and game and berries are necessary. But such an undertaking could not have happened unless its builders viewed it as necessary — indeed, more urgent than huts and game and berries.
Yet God waited until over 7,000 years after this human monumental yearning for the divine to get in touch with Abraham, and the authors of the Hindu Vedas, then another 1,400 years to inspire Gautama the Buddha, and then another 600 years to send His son into human history to die for our sins, and another 600 years thereafter to speak with Mohamed. Why?
Why not establish the definitive relationship of God and humanity at the earliest point of humanoid yearning for the divine? Why not get it settled? What was God thinking?
Why would God be coy? Perhaps God desired true presence with human beings only when they could truly register it, only when it was possible to spread the Word by other than word-of-mouth. Perhaps God was dealing with other matters for a few millennia.
I must confess to a bias here. The asserted omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience of God makes God unreal to me. An all-powerful, everywhere, all-knowing God generates mind-boggling contradictions. I like a smaller God. A God with a personality — which is impossible if God is all-everything. The ultimate turbo-God looks so much like a necessary heuristic, a concept that had to be invented to reinforce monotheism, but which strips God of any meaningfulness. God is everything? Okay. Not helpful.
If God, possibly, is not literally everything (and therefore potentially meaningful), then a God-space becomes much more attractive. Interestingly, every major religion treats God, in its narrative passages, as a personality. The Jewish scriptures show God changing His mind, getting emotional, engaging in negotiations with good people, and evolving in His sensibility. Christianity and Islam built upon this narrative, but became much more rigorously monotheistic and absolutist — while, oddly, embracing the original Jewish narrative — and in the case of Christianity, ironically, developing a polytheistic heuristic with the doctrine of the Trinity.
The reach of the human imagination is awe-inspiring, and never more so than when it seeks the divine. Our religious architecture — our urgent thinking and feeling about God and everything we conceive in that urgency — is, to borrow Keats, a thing of beauty, a joy forever, and always the best of the human impulse to stand modest before what we cannot understand.
I love the humans that built the Gobekli Tepe temple. I love their sacrifice and their devotion. They were modest and lifted up their hands to God, somehow, and said please save us. And the rest is history.