Is All of Religion an Apology for Agriculture?

Here’s a post my girlfriend could’ve written. It’s about how most religious or spiritual quests are at heart an attempt to reconcile the life agriculture has created with the one humans were living as hunter/gatherers for eons before that momentus shift, which really took place yesterday in terms of geologic time. She and I have talked about this connection at length after she read quite a bit about religious rites, dietary restrictions, and conceptions of time. All of it suddenly came across as an apology for agriculture.

Consider the Epic of Gilgamesh, which opens with the taming of a wild man created by the gods to challenge Gilgamesh’s authority. It shouldn’t seem strange that one of the first civilizations born out of the “fertile crescent” would focus on the transition between wild and domesticated life. And I write “transition” as if it were uniformly gradual or even self-evident. This shift was the result of choices made and then forced onto others. Without agriculture, there would be no armies.

Jared Diamond called agriculture the “worst mistake in the history of the human race.” If that’s true, then it would make sense that humans would feel alienated enough to create whole worlds—kingdoms—to which one could escape. These other-worldly domains may represent the latent yearning for a past age, a yearning that can’t be completely quelled because we spent so much time in the wild that our “humanity” is written into our DNA. This alienation from the world we’ve built would also explain the connection between religion and judgment. We must be guilty of something or other; I mean, just look around: only a truly unholy force could be behind the total destruction of a god-given home.

The agricultural revolution also determined a linear view of history with set days of an arbitrary week. The calendar may not seem inimical at first glance, but here I am, at my desk, simply because it’s Thursday and not Saturday.


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