As we suffer through another pointless Daylight Saving Time, I’m thinking of rituals that have lost their meaning. Life is full of them. We do things because we’ve always done them this way and even when they become harmful because of the way lifestyles change (auto accidents, for example, increase after shorting people of an hour’s sleep) we can’t seem to let go. DST alone should’ve been enough to convince those who claimed religion would simply go away when science kicked in that they are wrong. This is one reason that I’ve always found the origins of ideas fascinating. Why did people believe this? Why did they do this? What started this whole process? (Just to be clear, I’m not asking this about DST; I’ve written about that before.)
We can’t know the ultimate origins of religion. I’ve suggested in the past that what we would term religious behavior has clear origins in the behavior of animals. A somewhat fully developed consciousness provides incentive to rationalize such behavior. The earliest organized religion of which we know involved state functionaries (priests) supporting, probably for sincerely believed reasons, the “secular” government. Kings and priests needed each other and people quickly conformed. Even when those on the inside came to realize that they were merely pretending, they kept on doing so. It was too late (or if DST, too early) to change anything, so the mascarade continued. Tracing the history of religious ideas reveals perhaps more than we want to know. And human beings are natural actors.
Once, while in a restaurant, I sat near the kitchen. The smiling servers, as they neared that portal lost their smiles and harried looks came to their faces as they told frantic cooks what the couple at table eight wanted. Yet they continued to pretend they were happy when at table-side. Or think of work with its “public facing” information that is inevitably different from what is known by those on the inside of the company. Actors. We’re all actors. Perhaps it’s the price to pay for living in a civilization. If we stopped to think about why we’re doing something as inane as pretending five o’clock is now six o’clock, or even that all people are the same and should be at work between nine and five, society could not stand the scrutiny. Anarchy would erupt in the streets. We should be thankful that people don’t think about these things too deeply. Or, then again, maybe I didn’t get enough sleep last night.