The comparative anthropology of religions is based on the intuition that they have a common, original foundation, or at least that they share striking analogies.
But are these analogies really significant?
Do they reveal structural invariants, hidden in the diversity of apparent forms?
Is it legitimate to compare and compare, today, from an anthropological point of view, the worship of the God Osiris, King of Death, the sacrifice of the Purusa in the Veda, the immolation of Isaac required of Abraham by YHVH, the humiliating death of Jesus on the cross?
Despite all the obvious differences, do these examples not offer certain common points that transcend eras, civilizations and particularities?
In these cases, the death of an innocent, a deity lowered into humanity.
If so, then it opens the door to an anthropology of the divine.
It is a paradoxical time for us.
Religion seems to play a major role in some parts of the world, for example in the southern Mediterranean, or in the Middle East. But elsewhere, in much of Europe, on the contrary, there is a weakening of religious sentiment, or at least conventional religiosity.
On the one hand, extreme forms of religious violence, even fanaticism, and identity affirmation based on religious faith, claim millions of victims, modify the map of the world, provoke mass emigration, with global geopolitical consequences.
On the other hand, skepticism, materialism, agnosticism, atheism and atheism are flourishing, replacing old dogmas, now difficult to accept without criticism, with the discourse of « humanism », based on various achievements such as « secularism » and « tolerance ».
It is a global fault line, which passes through each society, and is drawn every day on the map of the world.
On the one hand, some peoples are more or less carried away by religious passion. On the other hand, entire populations, once subject to the religious spirit, seem to be moving away from it, and even despising it – forgetting the fanatical fury that may have overwhelmed them in earlier times.
These global, religious and geopolitical lines, what are they the symptoms of?
By studying the ancient religions, their foundations, beliefs and excesses, it seems to me that we can make a contribution to this question. We can hope to discern fundamental trends in human cultures, trends that can be identified in one form or another at all historical periods, and that are still active today.
If we can identify some trends, some principles, we will have taken an important step.
The context of the analysis is essential. The crisis of the « anthropocene » has begun. It has been given a geological name to highlight its importance in the long history of the Earth. This is a crucial period, and perhaps even a new « axial » period in the history of humanity.
Any progress, however small, in the anthropological analysis of the « crisis of the mind » would be of immeasurable importance.
Skeptics, materialists, agnostics, atheists and unbelievers undoubtedly share, in spite of themselves, some anthropological invariants with « believers ». They just don’t believe in the same gods. They do not believe in gods that have the name of gods. But they believe in gods who are abstractions, ideas, or even absences of ideas, as the nothingness of any belief.
Structurally it is the same fundamental mechanism. These abstract gods, these idea gods, or these gods of nothingness, let us note that they existed in some religions. The Zend Avesta, for example, had invented gods embodying pure abstractions such as « good thinking ».
It is also worth noting that skeptics, materialists, agnostics, atheists and unbelievers also have their expiatory victims, their scapegoats. Nor do they hesitate to make their own gods die as a holocaust, on the cross of their doubts.
If an anthropology of religions is at all possible, then it will reveal infinitely more about Man than about the Divine.
Then we’ll perhaps need to continue with the next step.
After this (badly needed) anthropology of the Divine, — there is, waiting for us, a new field of research to be opened: a Cosmo-Theology of Humanity, or as Raimon Panikkar labelled it, we have to invent a « cosmotheandric » Mythos.i
iRaimon Panikkar. The Rythm Of Being. The Unbroken Trinity. The Gifford Lectures. Orbis Books, New York, 2010