AN ALTERNATIVE CREATION MYTH

Daniel S. Levine

July 19, 1992

 

FIRST JEFFERSON CHURCH
UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST
1959 Sandy Lane
Fort Worth, TX 76112

READINGS:

1. From a review by George Feuerstein of the book The Web of the Universe: Jung, the New Physics, and Human Spirituality by John Hitchcock

But what is spirit? ... Hitchcock regards it as the energy or force that shapes and evolves matter to ever higher levels of existence. In the course of this unfolding, consciousness emerges and becomes more and more intensified. Why this should be so, no one can tell. However, ... "Something Greater" seems to be operating here. ... spirit_matter is "God_stuff" and evolution is "Godding." In other words, the Divine reveals itself in Nature and the progressive unfolding of the human psyche. "Creation completes God eternally," notes Hitchcock.

2. From Myths to Live By by Joseph Campbell

The old Greek idea of Love as the eldest of the gods is matched in India by the ancient myth from the ... Upanishads ... of the Primal Being as a nameless, formless power that at first had no knowledge of itself but then thought, "I," aham, and immediately felt fear that the "me" it now had in mind might be slain. Then, reasoning, "Since I am all there is, what should I fear?" it though, "I wish there were another!" and, swelling, splitting, became two, a male and a female; out of which primal couple there came into being all the creatures of this earth.

...

For, according to the Indian view, our separateness from each in space and time here on earth — our multitude — is but a secondary, deluding aspect of the truth, which is that in essence we are of one being, one ground; and we know and experience that truth — going out of ourselves, outside the limits of ourselves — in the rapture of love.

 

THE SERMON:

Sometimes I have trouble explaining what Unitarian Universalists believe to people outside the church. Sometimes we have trouble explaining it to ourselves. We know what we against, theologically, better than we know what we are for. I have an intuitive feeling about what I am for, religiously, but it is hard to communicate. Perhaps I can get some of it across here by sharing fragments of a novel I am writing, called The Ptutites.

My novel is about a chance encounter of a modern American team of archaeologists with the remnant of a long_lost civilization called the Ptutites. These people are pronounced "PTOO tights" ("oo" as in "good"), but some Americans are not used to the double consonant at the start so instead say either "pe TOO tights" or "TOO tights." They had once (so their own history said, at least) occupied a large part of what is now our Eastern seaboard (the ancient republic of Ptut), but now were confined to about thirty square miles in a remote part of Afghanistan. They had established three thousand years ago, or so they claimed, a society as technologically advanced as ours, but far more cooperative and more in tune with their environment. Also, in all their activities, including their professions and religion as well as games, they valued playfulness and humor, a gentle humor that doesn't put down the defenseless but laughs gently at irony and coincidence.

Over the centuries, the Ptutites had lived in exile throughout the civilized world, trying to persuade other people that a cooperative outlook is possible, that war, poverty, and superiority_inferiority divisions are not inherent in human nature. But church and state together had conspired not only to wipe out expression of the Ptutite culture, but to expunge from history all proof that the Ptutites ever existed; obviously, that conspiracy has been enormously successful! Authorities are afraid of the example the Ptutites might set for oppressed people everywhere. So part of their tactics is cynicism, labelling the cooperative ideals as "utopian," in the pejorative sense, or "impractical" (words that, interestingly, have no equivalent in the Ptutite language). As I heard someone say on the occasion of Martin Luther King's death (these might have been Dr. King's own words), "brotherhood is not so impossible a dream as those who profit by postponing it pretend."

What kind of religion would such a people have? I am using the novel as a kind of thought experiment, to explore a model for our own future if we are going to change the societal outlooks that drastically need changing. So I am seeking to build into my novel a religion that is suitable for people who must make the best of their lives on earth while curbing their violent and domineering impulses that threaten to destroy the planet. The Ptutite religion is a blend of elements that we would consider Judaeo_Christian (emphasis on ethical laws), Hindu (belief in reincarnation), scientific/rationalist (a belief in natural explanations for all things, including reincarnation itself), and neo_Pagan (valuing of sexuality, nature, and play). Perhaps the intuition for this synthesis can best be obtained from the novel's recounting of the Ptutite creation myth. First Andrew, the young American who is the book's main character, listens to a reading of the myth by his Afghan Ptutite girlfriend, Marta. Then, Andrew and Marta engage in a dialogue about the meaning of the myth and how Westerners might react to it.

Before we begin the narration, let me give two pieces of background. First, the Ptutite name for their god was Godaga. (In fact, the Ptutites said that our word "god" is a shortened form of theirs!) Godaga is both female and male, and all of us strive to be eventually at one with him/her. Second, the Ptutite language uses a distinctive grammatical construction for the passive voice. The Ptutites do not say, as we would in European languages, "He is much loved." They say, "Loves him much." It is a sentence with a phantom subject, as it were. So now let us listen to the theatrical cadences of Marta tost Lana, the young Ptutite woman:

"In the beginning, brooded without end. Brooded without beginning, and without time. Was nothing and willed to be something. Was tickled to laughter by the thought of being something. In a fit of laughter, for the hell of it (bel dona), came forth and shouted, ‘Create me!’

"Came forth and asked, demanded, commanded to be created. It was not speech as we know it, it was pure mind and soul language. The laughter that there was something became laughter that there was something else. Something willed something else to come forth in labor to create both of them. Then bel dona the first thing laughed and said, again in soul language, ‘Come, my love, and share delight with me.’

"The second thing said, ‘What do you mean by love?’

" ‘I have delighted in your struggle, since I had brooded before, but now delight in your delight, which is what I call love. Let it be delight in me above all.’ "

"They played together until the second thing burst forth in a shout of joy. It said, ‘Praise difference! Let there be more different things than the two of us. Let there be worlds, and change, and a forward thrust of all things on a long line.’

" ‘Not a line!’ said the first thing, ‘but a great circle, going round back to us.’
" ‘Line!’
" ‘Circle!’
" ‘Line!’
" ‘Circle!’

"The two lovers, who made up the entire universe, had the first lovers’ quarrel, which interrupted the creation. The energy of the first, that was called female, and of the second, that was called male, began to set about to destroy each other. In their difference and their striving, they created time, and their quarrel lasted an infinite number of our years. The female was sure that since she had been first, she would prevail and rule alone. But the male, though second, had a strength of his own that was equal to hers, and neither yielded. Their quarreling ended in the first explosion of the gaseous cosmos."

"The first female looked on the gas that had been created, the first of the particles that were not pure soul, and began to weep. Her tears watered the heavens, which began to cool, forming the first liquids and solids. She turned to her mate and said, ‘We were one! How did we manage to be split into two? Can we be healed again?’

"The first male said, ‘I think we can. After all, we are not only two, we are two in one. We are different but we are together, and feel for each other. Let there be a single name for us both. Since you are first, though first among equals, I shall let you choose our name.’

"The female brooded for a few hours, and then said, ‘Let our name be Godaga. And let creation be a circle for me and a line for you, coming together in a spiral. Let the mortal and finitely lasting particles that we create form into spirals that live, and feel some of our delight, and use that delight to create more of themselves.’ "

"And the old love of male and female Godaga returned, never again to depart, as the male said, ‘Bel dona let there be spirals not only in the particles of life, but in the shape of time. Let things seem to move in circles and repeat but simultaneously thrust forward, and as their mortal parts end and begin again, let them have an immortal part which comes spiraling back to us in ecstasy.’

"The spirals of time and of the molecules of life were the first synchronicity, the first pun, the first of the laws of nature made by Godaga. As female and male Godaga devised the laws of nature and experienced all of time flowing out from them, they paused often to take their pleasure. And in their pleasure, female Godaga always reached her final joy before the male, but once he reached his, their joy was equal."

Now let us pick up some of Andrew's comments on the myth, translated from the Ptutite:

"I like that!" Andrew said. "The Barmis and Ptutites, like many peoples, worshipped the life_giving power of the female, but for them this meant female primacy, not supremacy."

"Yes, female supremacy, or male supremacy, is a blasphemy," Marta answered. "We evolve toward Godaga, so we are her/his past selves. But he/she does not encourage us to be Godaga’s self from the time that they quarreled. Yet that time was long, and dies hard, which is why there are wars, and why so many people set themselves up as better than someone else."

"As Godaga moved toward perfection, so do we! Is that the end of the myth? What about the creation of the stars, the planets, the earth, different life forms, humans? Did all that just unfold from the first act of creating diversity, or was there a plan to it?"

"Godaga, we believe, created the laws of nature bel dona, for the hell of it, created tendencies but left part of their outcome to chance. He/she created majon, soul particles, in humans and all sentient beings. He/she created the laws of evolution, which combined random selection and synchronicity. But what forms of life evolved, and how quickly, Godaga did not plan in detail. Godaga also created the capacity and the desire for communication, but allowed nature to evolve the product of that desire into written and spoken language as we know it. So yes, that is the end of the creation myth."

"I like this view of the deity. For many Westerners, it's probably a bit hard to grasp, a bit — I don't think there’s a Ptutite adjective with the same meaning, but in English it's ‘abstract’."

"Abstract?"

"The word comes from the Latin meaning, I believe, ‘drawn away.’ It is used for general theories, as in mathematics, but also for painting that doesn't represent a definite object in the real world. So it has the connotation of being divorced from reality."

"Now wait a second!" Marta said, smiling. "What’s more real than sex? Your Western, Christian or Jewish god doesn't make love,1 if we are to believe your sacred books, but ours sure does. Godaga not only instructs us to enjoy ourselves, but sets an example."

Let me talk about the weaving together of spirituality and science in this myth. The notion of a spiral (use hand gestures here), combining the "male" line and the "female" circle, has been used before as a description of time. But Andrew remarked that the Ptutites, long before they had discovered what we call the double_helical DNA molecule of genetics, had decided that the spiral was the secret of life as well. This is a case of intuition finding first what is later verified by reason, a commonplace occurrence in the history of science.

Also, the Ptutites had an elaborate theory of the soul and reincarnation, based on mathematics, physics, and biology. At the time of the archaeological team's visit to Afghanistan, the main character, Andrew, had just written a Ph.D. dissertation on mathematical biology, so he was uniquely qualified to study their theory. In fact, he made an important and positive contribution to the Ptutite belief system, which I will not disclose because I DO want you to read the book when it comes out! The essentials of the theory are: There are other elementary particles besides those that are contained in matter. These particles are called majon (from the Ptutite maju = fast) since they travel much faster than light. (The equivalent word in our physics is "tachyons," from the Greek word tachys = fast). Unlike subatomic particles, majon (the Ptutite language does not distinguish singular and plural) become more organized at higher temperatures. Thus they violate the second law of thermodynamics, the law that everything must increase in entropy or disorder as time goes on. All living beings, and some nonliving ones, carry around a collection of these majon which is roughly what we call the "soul" or "spirit." After a being dies, the "soul" looks for another set of conditions which are favorable for its bodily rebirth, and if the right body is being conceived, can go there with as little as a few seconds time delay. The "soul" is like a hologram for the formation of a new living being, usually of the same species.

I personally lean toward a faith in reincarnation although I have no "past life experiences" to report. I believe in it out of hope, out of a Universalist outlook, in fact. Starr King contrasted Unitarians and Universalists by saying Unitarians believe man (sorry for the sexism, I am reporting history) is too good to be damned, whereas Universalists believe God is too good to damn man. But essentially, both religions agreed that infinite punishment for the sins of a short life is unjust. On the other hand, universal salvation seems hard to achieve with only one lifetime for everybody. I believe that many people (Hitler, for an extreme example) need some extra time, at least, to work out their conflicts enough to be fit to live in heaven or any place like it. In another fantasy novel, Shikasta by Doris Lessing, the state of souls in between two successive lifetimes is one of great struggle, trying to muster the courage to let themselves be reborn. This state sounds like worse suffering than any experienced on earth but, unlike the Christian hell, is compatible with the Ptutite outlook. Universal salvation, reincarnation with everyone ultimately joining Godaga, allows for periods of pain, even punishment, as long as the punishment is not eternal. Godaga, and the order of the universe, always gives us another chance, no matter how many we muff.

Does reincarnation pose a problem for ethics? Why should we be motivated to treat each other well if we know everyone will be fine in the end no matter what? In fact, there is an episode in my novel where some young Ptutites use reincarnation as an excuse to commit a "thrill murder" (of the Nathan Leopold variety). In the short run, the Ptutite outlook, much like the Unitarian Universalist or other liberal religious outlooks, can lead to moral laxity. In the long run, I think it does just the opposite, encouraging people to take risks with each other, to challenge existing social paradigms, to experiment with ways to become more productive, more compassionate, and enjoy life more. I personally know that when I get into the mind set of, say, "my whole life hinges on the success of this grant proposal," I get mentally unhinged, and cannot concentrate on the proposal itself. Whereas, when I let go and say, bel dona, for the fun of it, for the sake of curiosity, let me try my hands at writing this proposal, see what happens, I get involved in the work and the results tend to be pretty good.

So my religion combines a Jewish or Christian emphasis on the dignity of each human being with a neo_Pagan emphasis on harmony with nature. It revels in nature’s diversity. The male and female among us, and the bisexuality of Godaga, are a powerful metaphor for diversity in general. The Ptutite god created gender differences to be a source of delight. Since the female part of Godaga came before the male, their theology supports in one sense the modern feminist saying of "When God created man, she was joking," but meant as a joke in the sense of fun, not a putdown. As Marta reminded Andrew in the novel, Godaga did not intend gender differences to be a source of contention, or to imply that one gender is superior to the other. In fact, the Ptutites regard making either sex superior as blasphemy. Male versus female is spiritually an important distinction, and is ritually celebrated much as it is in Wicca. But the distinction is only itself: it is not tied up in trait attributions. The Ptutites are horrified by European and American beliefs that women are more sensitive than men, and men are more courageous than women. They see trait attributions as a barrier to appreciation of sexuality in itself.

What kind of sexual mores would such a culture have? The Ptutites are more liberal than we are about expressions of love and friendship at all levels, both heterosexual and homosexual. But they are much less ready than Americans to jump into bed with someone impersonally, in order to be "kinky," or to escape from a hypocritical puritanism which is, after all, absent from their culture. They have primary partnerships that are more stable than ours, even if not strictly monogamous in our sense. As far as producing children, they value biological fatherhood as well as motherhood, so they make sure that effective birth control is practiced outside the primary partnership. Birth control is also practiced within the partnership, to limit children to no more than two per couple, as they live within a small, largely self_sufficient agricultural settlement and must limit population size.

What is the importance of the lovers’ quarrel that male and female Godaga had in the past? For one thing, it serves to explain evil in a benevolent (or should I say "user friendly") universe. It also makes their god more human and believable, I feel, than the Judaeo_Christian god who was preexisting and perfect. A god who can evolve from being petty and power_hungry to being compassionate and wise is one that we can have a good shot at emulating. The Christian doctrine of the humanity of Jesus aims at the same effect. But Jesus is only male, and women often complain of the lack of an equally good divine role model (Mary is a little too one_sided, too much of a "handmaiden.") Second, while Jesus does have to resist temptation at times, through much of his mission he comes across as knowing he is perfect and divine, and being a little pompous about it.

In the Ptutite ethos, each of us has a mission, a purpose for being here, a purpose that may span several lifetimes. We are each on a quest, and our journeys replicate Godaga’s own. The universe is full of signs and analogies, some of them with a great deal of describable meaning, others with much less apparent meaning. The less meaningful ones are what Carl Jung called synchronicities. The Ptutites describe them as Godaga making puns, Godaga being playful with events. A few synchronicities in my life relate to the Ptutite novel itself. For one, I have shown the novel to three people, one of them a friend named Ken Roemer who is a professor of English at UTA, where his two specialties are Utopian literature and American Indian literature. How did I get to know him? In 1986 when Lorraine and I bought our house in Arlington, the former owners, when they heard I was a UTA professor, mentioned that the Roemers lived on our block. But before then I had meant to look him up, not only because we shared an interest in utopias, but because he had been in my class at Harvard and I had never met him there. Is that God being playful, or what? To compound the "divine pun" further, my father also has a friend from his college class named Ken, who was an English professor, now retired, and an avid Marxist. And both of these Kens have in common a thin build, background as a college athlete, and an East Coast literary style of speaking.

For another, I am now mentoring a boy in this church who, like me, developed an early interest in mathematics, and his first name is the same as the main character in the novel — Andy Pierce. Finally, Andrew's courtship of Marta in the novel includes a scene where he is lamenting that American women have not been able to forgive his peccadillos, and she proclaims theatrically, "I now forgive all your armadillos!" (Actually, the conversation is in Ptutite, in which tongue there happens to be an analogous pun between an animal name and a word for human foibles.) That I wrote about six years before I moved to Texas, where armadillos are a cultural fetish!

Obviously, a people who value the playful aspect of the divine (Navajos call it the "trickster") would have a cultural tendency to love gentle wit of all kinds, puns, ironies, harmless practical jokes, and decisions made "for the hell of it" (bel dona). This is reflected in another myth of the Ptutites, on the origin of winter. Their legend was that in ancient times weather was always warm, except in the far north near the pole, until a man named Evistinya shaped a piece of wood into the shape we call a ski. He sold skis for use as an oar, an ax, and for spanking naughty children, and many people bought them. But gradually they found that skis were of low quality as an oar or an ax, and the number of naughty children became fewer under a wise monarch. So Evistinya, the inventor of skis, was about to be hounded out of his town. But his uncle, the noted holy man Joegilman, took pity on him and prayed to Godaga to send down snow to find a use for the ski.

The Ptutite religion exhorts us both to enjoy coincidences and to treat them as signs. After days or weeks without synchronicities, I feel depressed, as if everything and everybody were disconnected and out of touch with each other and with me. But when a synchronicity happens, for example, when I think about some possible event and then it happens, that lifts my spirits, encourages me to see purpose in events and go on with my plans. In the United States, as we have grown too damn busy (I distinguish "damn busy," meaning having to spend a lot of time on trivia, from "busy," which could either be good or bad), we are in danger of losing our sense of synchronicity or purpose through disjointedness. So it is important to challenge our paradigms, to stand apart from our culture and look at it from our essential selves, to see competitiveness and cynicism as only a part of human nature, no matter how prevalent they are.

Would we have to stand apart from our culture if we were Ptutites or lived in some other utopian society? I think the answer is yes. In the novel, Ptutites (including Andrew’s lover Marta) often lapsed into a sense of superiority in relation to outsiders, and the Americans had to call them on that. Every utopian novel I have read involves a confrontation between the utopian culture and the outside world: for some purpose of their own, the utopians always need the outsiders as much as vice versa. My book ends with the Ptutites and other societies blending together and other societies adopting some of the Ptutite outlook (just how, again, I will not reveal now).

I recommend reading of other utopian novels besides mine. My two favorite modern ones are Ecotopia, by Ernest Callenbach, and Woman on the Edge of Time, by Marge Piercy. Utopias have a bad press in our society, being associated with "impracticality" and "escape." But they are valuable because they have the effect of encouraging us to be more and better than we are now, to keep us from getting mired in the prevailing contradictions of our culture and think that is how things must be. (My non_fiction trade book in progress, Common Sense and Common Nonsense, has a similar theme.)

Do I literally believe the religion of my novel? I don’t know for sure. But if we are to deal with the world’s enormous problems — environmental destruction, persistent poverty, rising crime, breakdown of community, excessive individualism — it is best to err on the side of hope. If we are to believe, in suspension of partial disbelief, that a better society is possible, we should try to have the same suspension of disbelief about the cosmic order. Otherwise, it is too easy to lapse into what Kurt Vonnegut called the "Church of God the Utterly Indifferent," and thereby become apathetic and discouraged. We can tackle our problems best if we continue to enjoy life and have faith in a benevolent power that we ourselves are a part of. Let us pray: O, Godaga, hont el moan uz auu — O, Godaga, help us become like you.

1In the actual novel, "make love" is replaced by "fuck."