Why do Earthquakes happen? Tornadoes? Hailstorms? Floods? How can we react to them and how should we feel about disasters? Are they normal, or something to worry about? With our relatively newfound understanding of the world, it is much easier to look to the sky’s weather patterns, tectonic plates, or the sun’s spots to understand why these happen, but that was not the case for most peoples through time.
I said newfound understanding because for the whole of human history up until the advent of rational and practical science we as humans relied on a mostly mythological or religious view of the workings of the world. In Lisbon, Portugal November 1, 1755, was a day that the world shattered for many tens of thousands and caused millions more to repent their sinful ways in order to keep the wrath of God off their shores much in the same way that the Romans of Pompeii and Herculaneum wondered why the gods were punishing them. This is so far from how most people view world events today.
In our work, we are still in the mostly shadowy vailed period long ago. Thousands of years are not easy to peer through and understand the truth of those who lived there. Up until the advent of scientific reason (in some places in the world that only occurred in the 1800’s AD! For instance, early calculations for the age of the earth in a scientific mindset started in earnest in 1855 Lord Kelvin, The First Baron Kelvin William Thompson (great name, huh?)) gods and monsters roamed the world and punished mankind for their sins or failed observances. Back in that time, man spent much of its time placating gods and trying desperately to make them happy. Many of the Greek thinkers such as Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates were all accused of being atheists because their approach of looking to the natural world rather than the Gods was so unique and scary to the enlightened Hellenic Greek society.
Our friend Hammurabi prayed to his gods to help make the city prosperous. In Ancient Britain, the Celts prayed to any number of gods as did the Greeks and Romans we know so well in order to gain a good harvest or avoid an angry outburst that could destroy their society. Half a world away and centuries later, the Aztecs, Olmecs, Incas, and Maya all had their pantheon of gods that helped explain the sky, water, earth, fire, war, harvests, and childbirth. Any act or natural thing that was hard to explain had a god or goddess which helped layout how the force got to be. This seems like the easy way out, but it is actually quite hard to conceive of a god or goddess, convince a whole people that they exist somewhere outside of reality, the are responsible for the sky or the changing of seasons and that they should believe in him/her is no easy feat.
As we bring this short post to a close it is important to remember one main aspect of trying to study philosophy and history of a people that relied on the supernatural only as an explanation, they are far more dependent on their belief system, and they do not allow for any doubt of their system of belief. I will try to veer away from all things religious if possible in this blog. The theological is separate from the philosophical except where the theologians like St. Augustine, Boethius, St. Aquinas, Martin Luther, and others allowed themselves to question the nature of the reality of the times to question. Sometimes we also have to do so in order to progress beyond our age, experience, and exposure to new things.