After reading @Boris_amj
's very funny "The God of Banished" my satirical bent (some would say "warp") started buzzing and I decided to do a spoof of my profession. This is in the spirit of the classic Motel of the Mysteries
which presents a report from a future archeologist reporting on a find in the middle of what used to be the United States, the ancient city of Tul-sa.
Because I got a bit wordy (this is an academic essay after all) I'm splitting it over the original and a reply.
So here is:
An Essay on the Theology and Practice of RNGism
Any study of the religion known to scholars as RNGism, that is the worship of the God RNG, must begin by admitting to the paucity of documentation of the precise nature of the religion and its practice. In fact, we have only one manuscript from the times and places where RNG was widely worshipped, “The God of Banished,” edited and translated by the well-known scholar Boris_amj (http://worldofbanished.com/index.php?topic=94.0
). This document is remarkable in that it is clearly of the genre of a theophany story, but it is quite unlike any other representative of the genre. That is, the story recounts the encounter of a potential prophet with the God, but unlike other theophanies the potential prophet seems completely unaffected by the encounter. The distinctiveness of the RNG theophany can be seen easily by comparing it with other well-known examples of the genre such as Moses’ encounter with YHWH in the burning bush. First, the potential prophet is never named until the very end of the story. Second, Lou is remarkably unaffected by the encounter. Unlike Moses, Mohammed or Saul of Tarsus his life is completely unchanged by the encounter with RNG. After they talk, Lou goes on home to have dinner. One can hardly imagine Moses saying to YHWH, “Well, nice talking to you. I have to get the sheep home now.”
Yet even this short segment of what may well be a longer story can give us some insights into the nature of the religion when we hold it beside archeological evidence that has been brought forward recently. A number of communities where RNG was worshiped have been uncovered and reported upon and these yield some interesting data for the historian of religion.
What do these communities have in common? First, almost universally the people who founded these settlements believed themselves to have been banished from somewhere—which may be why they called their theophany story, “The God of Banished.” In none of the evidence is there any reference to the place of their origins or to exactly why they were banished. This has led some scholars to speculate that the notion of banishment is not to be taken literally but should be seen as a “ruling metaphor” put forward by community elders in order to give the community cohesion under difficult circumstances. There is not really enough evidence to say one way or another, so we must be open to the possibility of either actual or metaphorical banishment. It was in all likelihood the mythical “banishment” that allowed the people to understand their almost complete isolation from other peoples.
The second thing we can say is that they were quite insistent that chapels be built. If the community failed to do so there was wide-spread unhappiness. Once a chapel was built exactly 200 people joined. When the community grew beyond 200 a second chapel would be built and, once again, failure to do so would result in general unhappiness. Each chapel had a cleric. The cleric may or may not have exercised something like what we think of as normal religious leadership. Who served as cleric changed often and it was often whoever lived closest to the chapel.
Third, these communities seem to have no notion of private ownership. All evidence points to the general sharing of all resources with everyone equally. This primitive socialism seems to extend even to the undertaking of whatever job was closest at hand. From available evidence it appears that all produce was gathered in common and distributed as needed to whoever needed it. In most communities these practices enabled a general prosperity—as near as we can tell there were no social classes in these communities—but in some it appears that the entire community was wiped out by starvation or cold.
Along with the lack of any sense of private ownership is a complete lack of concepts or practice of political leadership. In all these communities members of the community of all ages referred to themselves exclusively as “citizens.” Through most of the period during which these communities flourished, possibly from as early as the Carolingian era to the mid nineteenth century, this would have been quite unique. It was only with the American and (especially) French revolutions that “citizen” replaced “subject” as the primary identifier of a member of a community. Since there were no political leaders of any kind—at least, none that we have records of—the concept of “subject” would not have been appropriate. It is remarkable that these isolated communities developed the concept of citizenship well ahead of more settled and advanced societies.
Fourth, in all of these communities there appears to have been a unique sexual ethic at work. We can say with some assurance that there was no taboo against incest. There are records of brothers and sisters cohabiting and having children and very numerous records of cousins, aunt-nephew, and uncle-niece co-habiting. There are no records of what, if any, marriage ceremonies these communities practiced. Everyone seems to have been involved in heterosexual pairs and there was an extremely high value on having children early and often. Ten was the age at which one “became an adult,” which must be understood in much the same way as coming-of-age customs in other cultures. It may well be that there was no taboo against sexual relations between ten-year olds, but, given biological reality, records of ten year old fathers and mothers must be meant metaphorically to refer to the duty to have children as soon as possible. Given the general lack of sexual taboos it is remarkable that there are no records whatsoever of same-sex relationships. It is hard to imagine that these communities placed any barriers on any sexual activity, but it is also difficult to understand why, given the extensive records of other practices, same-sex relationships are never mentioned. This juxtaposition of what many would consider extreme libertinism with extreme repression is what makes the sexual practices of RNG worship unique.
Fifth, the people of the RNG-worshipping communities used only the most rudimentary technologies. They did not even use animals in transportation of to enhance their agricultural tools. As near as can be ascertained, they used shovels, picks, hoes, sewing needles, ladders (this is only known from records of people who fell to their deaths) saws and hammers. Interestingly, they had mastered the techniques for making steel, but used only to make longer-lasting versions of these rudimentary tools, though there are cryptic records of people occasionally being stabbed in the market place. It is difficult to imagine someone coming up to a vendor with a pick or shovel, though the tailors’ needles may have been larger than what we normally think of. At any rate, these communities either consciously or unconsciously lagged well behind other societies in their technology.
Sixth, RNG worshippers took a unique attitude toward death. On the one hand they were near fanatical about cemeteries. If there was no cemetery space available to bury a spouse, people would often go into life-long depressions. On the other hand people seemed quite nonchalant about remarrying immediately after the death of the same spouse. In addition, when someone was buried in the cemetery they seemed to select the grave plot at random and then they left the body there only about twenty years. The body was then removed and disposed of in some other way about which they left no records whatsoever.
There are other characteristics of the communities which might provide scholars some help in reconstructing the RNG religion, but these, together with “The God of Banished” allow us to make a beginning. We can say with some degree of certainty that adherents of RNG took this adherence with a certain nonchalant fatalism. In fact, nonchalant fatalism appears to be the central characteristic of RNGism in all its variants. This is clearly seen in the text of “The God of Banished.” Lou is bemused by his encounter rather than terrified by the Divine Presence. There is no sense of impurity or sin—a concept totally lacking in RNGism. Lou simply asks, “So, what do Gods do then?” What we have here is not a sense of awe, but rather something approaching idle curiosity.
Another example of the centrality of the nonchalant fatalism is the connection to the chapel. One belonged to the chapel, but one did not actually go there. Even the clerics normally did not enter the chapel, but stood all day just outside the front doors. This is quite remarkable given how much time and material went into building the chapels and the need to have a chapel in order to be fully happy. Why, if chapels were so important, is there no evidence of any actual attendance at any rituals, let alone participation or involvement?