Let’s start about 36,000 years ago, with the Venus of Hohle Fels. There’s other stuff from earlier times, and even dimples in rocks claimed to be as old as 700,000 years in India. But I like to start in Germany, because Europe’s where this Venus is from, and she’s undisputed in her age, though others claim to have older human representation in sculpture. Those claims are disputed, though.
Around 28,000 years ago, you get the Venus of Wilendorf. She’s from Austria. She looks quite similar is body and form: a big-titted fat lady. I say that without malice: these body representations are specifically fat. They represent the ideal form of womanhood from the time: big! Why?
Probably because everyone was hungry all the time. I mean, subsistence farming is not an easy way to live, especially in a place like Germany where it snows in the winter. People were not blessed with plentiful anything. But if they had or were a plentiful lady, well, that was awesome! And frankly, anyone who had a plentiful body back then would have been admired at least for their knowledge of how to get that much food together in one place at one time.
The answer to how they got fat, at the time, was probably “Agriculture,” the hot new buzzword of the day. But that’s not what we’re interested in. The point is, the ideal female human is fat at this time, because she represents prosperity, stability, health and fertility. Big people can survive the cold and foodless winters, like bears packing on pounds in the summer.
Heck, you could even make an argument that fatness is a wild and futuristic concept back in 34,000 BCE. Like, the first time you see a fat person, you might be only 20 years old and nearly 2/3’s of the way through your average human lifespan of 35. You might think a fat person was some sort of other-worldly being! Maybe even a god.
Now, we can quibble over whether these representations have religious implications, but I’m going to take a pass on that argument and go on assuming they are. It doesn’t matter much in the long run.
Anyway, before we have representations of human forms beyond stick figures in human art, we have representations of deer and hand outlines on walls. Why? Well, the hands are neat, that’s for sure, no explanation there. The deer are aspirational: the ideal. The thing they want. Yummy dinner. Big-ass deer, bigger than the people. Lotsa meat. Food.
If we see religion as spawning from aspirations, then we can safely begin around 36,000 years ago, or at the farthest, 38,000 BCE. That’s when we get the first provable big titted fat woman representation. I hate to say it, but she’s an object. A thing. An object with no use other than to be observed. She is Art. She is also an Idol. The first rock star, hewed from original rock.
So, if this is the beginning of religion, we’re basically worshiping food and sex. Which means we are hungry and horny. These objects are comforting because they remind us of what is good in life: big titted-fat women and their life giving pussies. I mean, look at the art. That’s what’s represented. The idols are not subtle in where the artists mind is going. The Venus of Hohle Fels doesn’t even have a head! She was made to hang on a necklace.
OK, let’s push forward to around 3,000 BCE. At 36,000 BCE, humans are full-on settling the nile. I mean, they started around 100,000 BCE at the earliest provable date, but all the really keen historians and artists start talking about stuff around 3,000 BCE, when we really start seeing art from the Egyptians.
Now, Egyptian art is not just intended to be pretty. A lot of it has serious significance, and religious purpose. For example, Hieroglyphics are a form of writing, and all the beautiful trinkets and mummies we find in their pyramids and tombs are specifically designed to accomplish a task in the afterlife.
To the Egyptians, the afterlife is a better place, but it’s not some place you just end up at. To me, it feels like they were convinced death was some sort of really arduous journey somewhere. Like planning for a trip in a game of Oregon Trail. You’re going to need a lot of meat, bullets, wagon wheels, and extra oxen to make the long and difficult journey.
If you worked for the Pharaoh and he or she died, you got entombed with them. You were generally mummified after being murdered, but you know, this was all super cool for you, because as a simple lay person, you had no chance of getting anywhere on the Oregon Trail of the afterlife. When you died, you’d be setting out on that trail with just your shoes.
The point I am making here is that the Egyptians seemed to feel there was something better on the other side, even though it wasn’t easy to get to. You didn’t just get into whatever they thought heaven was. You had to hitch a ride, or be carried. And of course, if you were the Pharaoh, you’d want to bring your cat.
I’m building slowly, I know. But the Jews enter around the same time as the artistic Egyptians, and their back story throws a bit of a curveball to the overall trend I am painting here. Instead of going forward, their views go backwards. Adam and Eve fucked it up, right? They USED to have it really good, but they fucked up and were cast out of paradise.
Judaism isn’t about some great reward after death. I don’t know enough to go into a debate about Jewish afterlife beliefs, but my understanding is that there ain’t much going on there. The great, wonderful paradise is in the past. The Garden of Eden. In the future is nothingness. I’d be a nihilist if I’d been raised Jewish.
About 3,000 years after Judaism starts its thing, Christianity gets under way. It’s got the whole “Paradise at the end of the struggle” thing going on, again, an aspirational belief: If I do well, I will be rewarded.
Over time, this becomes the heaven we see in the cartoons: playing harps on clouds. Bosch makes it look like a LOT more fun than that.
Enter Islam. The Islamic views of heaven are positively pornographic! But still, aspirational. It’s the ideal, the success, the things one cannot have in life are available once you complete the journey of life.
All of these religions have an ideal. A reward. A success state. Sometimes, they don’t even tell you how to get it. Other times they are quite specific about how you get it. And, to be clear, I am drastically reducing religions to simple summaries, here. Each of these religions, and even the big-titted fat woman religions have a TON of other stuff going on.
But for the purposes of this blog, they all explain some sort of ideal state, whether it was in the past, or in the future. Some place that’s better than here. A state of being that is better than real life. Than YOUR life.
Naturally, for the past 200,000 years, minus the most recent 100, life has been terrifically difficult. The increase in human prosperity and the ease of living has only really been in a hockey stick pattern for a hundred or so years. Things definitely trend upwards during empires, renaissances and golden ages, but there’s not a whole lot that can compare to air conditioning, socialized modern healthcare, and fertilizer.
Seriously. Fertilizer. It’s a big deal. Go read about it. It all comes back to agricultural improvements, even after 200,000 years. But I digress.
Glossing Over the Other Religions
In the interest of time, we’ll point to Buddhism for now. Hinduism works too, but it’s not helpful to my argument because reincarnation implies the rewards are only in this life and there’s nothing better, only higher level XP forms of being, lest yee make it to the grand completion screen in the sky.
Buddhism fits perfectly, though. The ideal, the aspirational state of being is definitely the coolest, most… well… zen of all the aspirational states of being. It’s not really attainable for every Joe six pack, and it takes a whole lifetime to attain it, but it’s still a way out.
A better place. Afterall, Buddhism does teach that life is suffering. Sure, you can joyfully participate, but at the end of the day, all life is suffering.
I’m glossing over a ton of other religions, and everything I’ve said so far is a humongous generalization, and probably completely wrong. Fuck you. You read this far. You don’t care. Let’s continue, so I can finish this nonsense and you can go back to playing with your 3D printer, or your new golf clubs, or whatever other thing you own that distracts you from the undeniable horror that is everyday existence in this reality.
My Point is, Most Religions Agree on this One Point
That point is pretty clear if you’ve been paying attention. The fundamental thing they all agree on is that the world we all live in is a shit hole. It’s not good. It’s suffering. It’s pain. It’s worse now than it used to be. In the future, it won’t be better because the only better is outside of this world.
Most religions seem to agree: Life is shitty. Specifically, your life is shitty. It’s hard to find other commonalities, frankly. But this one key thing unites most of them.
Is that comforting? I can’t tell…