The Gods of My Ancestors
Growing up in a dysfunctional family was the best and worst of all worlds, especially when it came to religion. The bewildering cornucopia of contrasting ideas about God, religion, going to church, etc. was enough to make any child’s head spin.
Living among devout Catholic great-grandparents, equally stanch Baptist grandparents, believers and non-believers, and old world Native American religions -- left me and my siblings wide open for the mind expanding theories of my grandmother, who was devoted to exploring much greater and imaginative considerations. In her mind's eye, the possibilities when it came to God, were endless.
The Zorach Decision
In 1952, the U.S. Supreme Court made available the framework for weekly Religious Release (now called Weekday Religious Education or WRE) for public school children to gain knowledge of Christian ideas of right and wrong. Today, despite separation of church and state, some states still have these programs.
The basic concept was to let grade school aged children, with their parent’s permission, leave their school property, to attend religious instruction.
Usually, this was and still is accomplished with either buses or RVs parked outside the school property, as the visiting classrooms.
It wasn’t about any specific religion, it’s concentration was to teach Christian doctrine and to support church attendance. It was to be supplemental teaching, not intended to be any interference with a family’s religious preference, or specific church teachings. A handful of state's today still have WRE.
The Question of God
In 1968, I asked my Grandmother a question that I'd been saving up for years on a hush hush topic in our family. Religion was a touchy subject among the various members of our family. It was one that was given to heated discussions, slamming doors, weeks of some not speaking to others, and occasionally even fist-fights.
Our teen-aged parents had decided when I was born, that the subject was not one that they would influence in any direction. We were simply told, when you grow up, you'll decide what's right for you.
So, it was with trepidation that I inquired: "How do I know what I should believe about God? Everyone in the family has a different opinion."
"Mamma says there is no God. Grandpere says God is everything, but won't go to church unless Memere makes him. Memere goes to church several times a day, every day. She says we'll all go to hell, if we're aren't in the Catholic church."
"Then, Grama Sadie says she once saw Jesus sitting next to Buddha and they were sharing the world's biggest joke. Uncle Phil says, God is good, but church isn't. Aunt Bonnie told me she's not sure if there is a God. Aunt Pearl goes to the Baptist church, and she says all Catholics are going to hell."
Grama Daisy looked over her glasses, gave a sigh and stalled, then she said, "The existence of God and what religion is right or wrong, what to believe and not believe -- is one I've struggled with myself. Those kind of questions are only ones that only you can answer for yourself. I can't tell you what to believe. When it comes to God, no one can tell another what to believe, and they are wrong if they try to."
As children, we'd attended a large number of churches with various family members (never our parents), and with friends (both Catholic and Protestant). Moreover, because of our great-grandparents, we had a healthy dose of Catholicism.
As a child in public school, our generation went to the "religious release" program every Wednesday. Since we weren't a specific religion, I had my own system of handling the dilemma of which trailer to pick each week to go to. One week I was Protestant, the next Catholic, and the next week an art student (that's what the kids without permission slips did while the rest of us attended religious release).
Mostly, these classes were big on history and archeology. We got to see a lot of ancient artifacts and religious relics. They gave us cookies and juice, and sold us bracelets with the ten commandments as charms, mustard seeds in glass, holy water vials, and facsimiles of ancient coins.
Now out of school and in the Air Force (home on leave), I was in the throes of figuring out who I was and what I stood for as a young adult. Still wanting to know more about what she believed, since I wasn't sure, despite all the years and time I'd spent with her, I asked: "Well, what do you believe?"
After another pregnant pause, "I'm still thinking about what I believe. I know somehow, someday I'll see my mamma in heaven, wherever heaven isn't and whatever heaven is. I'm just not sure who is sending me there. This week I'm thinking God might be a space man, because of a book I'm reading."
Chariots of the Gods
Well, this tidbit of news was a big revelation, I'd prayed and read the Bible with her since I was a little girl, and never saw any hint that she had doubts or wasn't a specific religion. Indeed, she often gave handmade aprons, with the pockets filled with handwritten prayers as gifts at Christmas and on Mother's Day to various organizations and churches.
At the time, she was fifty-seven years old, and I would have thought she'd figured all that out by then.
The book she was reading was, Chariots of the Gods, by Erich Anton Paul von Däniken.
When I returned to my Air Force assignment, I had her copy of the book, along with a plan she and I had cooked up for both of us to place all known religions side-by-side, study their principles, examine their legends, and see if, after all, there were not resemblances beneath the surface. In our letters, we were to compare notes of what each of us had found.
On the plane ride back to Carswell AFB, Texas, I read her scrawled note to me on the inside of the book read:
"The endless possibilities of God’s existence come to mind. I cannot believe that this is all there is. If we can assume that Jesus sprang from a virgin birth, why can’t we stretch our imagination to the outside possibility, that the race of man was engendered as a result of visits from ancient astronauts?"
"I’m not saying that’s what happened, frankly I don’t know. I suspect I won’t know till the day I die. Let’s just say, I’m keeping an open mind.”
P.S. "Someday, go to London and see Carlo Crivelli's - Annunciation with St. Emidius (1486). His painting proves that surely, I'm not the only one who ever wondered about these things. Erich Anton Paul von Däniken is probably a flim-flam man, but he does raise some valid points."
Chariots of the Gods
The book’s central theme was that ancient astronauts came with technologies and religions and gave them to some of earth’s older civilizations.
These gifted were wisdom, knowledge, and left their marks as gods they wouldn't have had without the alien extra-terrestial visitors.
Erich Anton Paul von Däniken
This charismatic author, lecturer, and sometimes contradictory spin artist is an accused and convicted part con-artist. He was born in 1935 in Zofingen, Aargau, Switzerland.
His big assertion was and still is, that he has concrete proof of extraterrestrial visits. He also had several theories on what those antique astronaut’s were doing when they visited earth.
Much of his work was not scientifically backed up, and a lot of it was borrowed from other authors. Still, despite all the personal controversy and his ethical problems, he had some valid points. Some of his proof of assertions were found in well known:
- Ancient oral and cultural traditions alluding to the stars and space travel
Throughout the 1970s, Erich Anton Paul von Däniken enjoyed a huge following, particularly in America and India. Von Däniken’s legal troubles and convictions led his downfall with later publishers. He has often has been denied entry to the United States. The scientific community is skeptical of many of his claims of proof, although some of them have not ruled out the possibility that he might be right about some claims.
Chariots of the Gods
More Questions Than Answers
Today, I am about the exact same age my grandmother was, when we made our pact to study the subject together. We did bounce letters back and forth for many years, on what we both were reading and thinking when it came to religion and God. When we first began, I was in the military during Vietnam, and soon met and fell in love -- which resulted in the project getting put on the back burners, as our family grew.
One thing she and I had agreed on in the beginning, was that so many people believe without knowing why they accept so strongly what they think they know. Many Christians, for instance have never read (and never will read) the Bible, so their faith is largely based on what others tell them, or just a simple acceptance. Oddly, a large number of people who reject all religion and all belief in any God, have formed these opinions, without ever reading any religion's text.
In our little comparison of the world's religions, I made it my business to read the Bible (in several different versions). I also read The Book of Mormon, the English translations of the Tanakh, and translations of the Qur'an.
Together, she and I studied Buddhism, Hinduism, the Bahá'í faith, Taoist beliefs, Confucianism, a host of Native American spiritual beliefs, and a number of lesser known world religions.
Some of our liveliest conversations were a series of letters back and forth, regarding the similarities in each religious viewpoint. Without exception, our stories and views of what is right and wrong -- are all the same. When it comes to religion, we are far more alike than not. It's just the interpretations of different religious organizations and churches, that skew things to make us "think" we believe so differently.
Other lively conversations revolved around the stories of The Master Thief of the Norsemen(Norse), The Story of Rhampsinitos (Egyptian) , the Story of the Poor Mason (Spanish), and the Story of the Shifty Lad (Scottish). These stories came to our attention in a little known antique book, Stories of the World's Worship, by Frank S. Dobbins, 1901. The author had used them in a beginning premise about how and why people worship certain gods, or practice certain religions.
In the many years of our study, I was fortunate to travel to many places throughout the world and witness first hand, the many ways that people worship and peek into their religious beliefs. I've had two near death experiences and can't explain even to myself what I saw and what I accept is real. Yet, in the end, I can only conclude that for me -- there is a God, one that I pray to daily. Belief in God or the choice not to believe in a God, along with the choice of religion, is a solely personal thing.
Praying Wheel of the Thibetans and Mongolians
Dare to Question and Seek Your Own Answers
I can't really offer what conclusions my grandmother and I had about all of the religions and belief systems we studied. Towards the end of her life, she became blind and bedridden. She kept telling me "the next time we get together, we'll figure out where to meet in heaven."
When she died, I was thousands of miles away, unaware the her end was near, so there were no goodbyes or last minute plans for our meeting. Yet, I know in my heart and mind, she is here with me everyday.
Without a doubt, someday we'll see each other again -- I'm keeping my open mind with the endless possibilities when it comes to God -- thanks to having been raised by a woman who dared to question and seek answers.
If You'd Like to Know More!
- Herodotus on Rhampsinitos