As at least some Norwegians headed for church over the Easter weekend, a Norwegian author and humanist has offered alternative views on what attracts people to religion. Kjell Kristensen’s new book argues that man created God, not the other way around.
“Throughout the history of civilization, people have dreamed up convenient religions and created the gods and goddesses they’ve had a need for at any given time,” Kristensen told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). Kristensen recently published the book entitled Da Gud Ble Til (roughly translated, “When God was Made”) that links the roots of religion more to human creativity than to miracles or divine inspiration.
Kristensen, who has authority in Norway to perform weddings and conduct funerals through Human-Etisk Forbund (the Norwegian Humanist Association), puts religion into an historic framework. He stresses how the fight for sheer survival was so hard thousands of years ago, and humans were so vulnerable to the forces of nature, that they strengthened themselves, for example, by creating an animistic view of the world in which animals, plants and other objects possessed a spiritual essence, and the dead could be called upon for assistance.
When the first agricultural-based societies emerged in the Mediterranean and Middle East, new gods were created to give hope for good weather, a good harvest, fertility and other needs from tools to bread-baking. In the far northern areas, where people had to live with snow and ice, it was logical to even create a goddess for skiing, who was called either Skadi or Skade (now a Norwegian word used for injury).
Using faith for justification
Faith also helped justify distance between the almighty interpreters of the gods’ will and their subservient flocks. The area later produced the three major religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, giving rise to the conflicts that exist to this day.
The author and playwright also charts how religions have a long history of borrowing or even plagiarizing elements from one to another. Christianity’s doom-day ideas were also central to those of the pharaohs of Egypt. While Egyptian religion has the creator Ra, the grandchild Isis, her husband Osiris and their son Horus, Christianity operated with the creator God the Father, the Virgin Mary, the carpenter Joseph and their son Jesus. That, Kristensen argues, may have made it easier for Christianity to establish itself in Egypt, even though the Egyptians had their own long and strong religious traditions already.
Kristensen personally is convinced that there is no “God,” that life is to be lived here and now, and that death marks the end of human beings’ short and challenging existence. He prefers to call himself a “free thinker” and warns against authoritarian atheism as much as authoritarian religion.
“Those who reject all religious thinking use the same authoritarian point of view as authoritarian religions,” Kristensen told DN. “Then you lose the cultural knowledge tied to the religions. I view religion as a part of cultural history, I try to understand it and examine both its attractive and objectionable sides.”