Premature Evaluation: Crest

Crest seeks to explore the way religions evolve, say the devs - although “devolve” might be more accurate here, your various edicts warping with the strange whims of your followers. There is certainly precedent for that, in the long and bloody history of religious misinterpretation. One of the most famous instances of such semiotic slippage in Christianity occurs when St Jerome - the patron saint of translators, no less - attempts to produce a new Latin translation of the bible from the original Hebrew, rather than from the Greek which had been the basis for the Latin translation hitherto. And in so doing, he unwittingly creates a pervading racist slur that plagues an entire people to this day.

Each week Marsh Davies brings a rain of fire upon the Sodom ‘n’ Gomorrah that is Early Access and comes back with any stories he can find and/or succumbs to the sordid pleasures therein. This week he fixes a puritanical eye upon the hapless hedonists of Crest, a god game in which your only interaction is to set a list of commandments and hope the humans heed your Word.

The god of Godus was less Jupiter than janitor, a god whose entire divine being was dedicated not to righteousness but to relentless menial labour. Crest’s god, by contrast, has a bit more responsibility, being required to describe an entire moral framework with a few judicious instructions. Though, that’s not to say your chosen people won’t find your religious writs open to some degree of interpretation. 180 degrees, in fact. Tell them to seek food and look after the elderly and, a few generations later, the tribe is waging a xenocide on gazelles and dancing until they drop dead.

Describing Moses returning from his chinwag with God on mount Sinai, Jerome writes that “his face was horned from the conversation of the Lord”. But the word “horned” here is a tricky one, and made even more so by the fact the original Hebrew is written without vowels. There the letters “KRN” are used, forming a root word from which multiple but related connotations can derive with the addition of vowels - though which vowels and which meaning is intended is a matter of context. Each possible meaning nonetheless suggests some sort of projection. It can refer to an animal’s horns, but, perhaps more aptly, it also comes to imply radiance. A light ray, projected from a point, is not unlike a horn, after all. Indeed, its usage in this sense remains in modern Hebrew today, in cathode ray tubes and x-rays alike, and even has connotations in the financial world as a source of power or capital. It can refer to the little handles on the side of the altar that you could grab to claim sanctuary, or even, figuratively, the “increasing majesty” of a princely line. All things that are little at the start and flare out.

You have to forgive some of their transgressions: your edicts are rather ambiguous, after all – described by a limited grammar that allows you to combine a scant few symbols in a “if [subject] then [verb] [object]” relationship. The tutorial limits this even further: the only subjects at my disposal are “desert” and “unhappy people”; the only verbs “prioritise” and “de-prioritise”; the only objects “young people” and “metal”. I don’t really understand why the tutorial has picked these particular things, or, indeed, what possible relationship desert dwelling people have with metal in general. Are they dead keen on it? What can I use metal for in this game? I am not an omniscient god, alas.

I figure a sensible thing might be to suggest that they move to somewhere which isn’t a desert, but, since this isn’t an option, I suggest that unhappy people prioritise metal. I assume this means I am instructing them to go and acquire some – thus generating a useful by-product from their misery. At least it gets them out the house, you know?

Most scholars now agree that the sense intended by the original Hebrew is that of radiance, specifically of light. It is followed by a word which, while it means surface or skin in the written text, is a homophone for the word for light. Given that this text was meant to be read aloud, it seems likely that the meaning of projecting light was intentional. Maybe Jerome was just a bit tired that day, but there are reasons to think he wasn’t being a total doofus in his choice of interpretation: this is the only instance in which he translates KRN to mean horned, suggesting he was aware of the other, probably more apt, connotations and chose this regardless. It might be that the Latin word he used, cornuta, had some particular allusion that was more obvious at the time. It’s unlikely he intended it to be read literally, and certainly not derogatorily, instead implying that Moses had been adorned or glorified in some way. It seems peculiar now, but many grandiose figures throughout history were described as having horns as a symbol of their power, Alexander the Great and Attila the Hun among them. Horned helmets might be worn by kings and priests alike. But regardless of the intent, a more literal interpretation of Jerome’s words began to take hold in the later medieval period, when the association between demonic imagery and bestial horns had also been established. And thus we have that persisting racist caricature of the horned Jew.

The tutorial ends and I find that I am now able to send out a much broader range of commandments, with subjects and objects picked from the following: desert, savannah, woodland, gazelle, lion, old people, young people, unhappy people, happy people, starving people, overfed people, and, according to the tool-tip “a period when followers are born”. I don’t know if this refers to the circumstances which permit procreation, or simply post-natal care. In any case, it’s moot, as none of my proclamations seem to have really the slightest predictable effect.

I get a few new verbs, too: I can now get my followers to perform or not perform things (though I am unclear on the distinction between this and prioritising things), and also to move toward or avoid things. I suggest that if they live in the desert they move to wherever food is. Nothing appreciable happens. I suggest that if they’re hungry, they get food. Nothing happens. I suggest if they’re unhappy, they get food. Someone dies of starvation. I suggest they move to where the gazelles are. The population grows a little, and people cease to be truly miserable, but nobody is really happy either and nobody has moved. Some people die of old age. Women seem to be transferring vegetables between the houses for unknown purposes. The men go off to dance by a hillside. I wish for a Great Flood button.

Such derogation is almost always a convenience to someone: no one looked at Jerome’s translation and suddenly thought, “Gosh, we better hate the Jews now!” They found room within the bible’s ambiguity to bolster their own existing prejudices. Misinterpretations are always opportunities for reinterpretation, allowing the powerful or would-be powerful to work their own agenda. Just look at the colossal amount of decapitations, burnings, warfare and turmoil that occurred as a result of the Reformation: a squabble among people who still believed in the same god, yet who, by strange coincidence, each preferred the interpretation of the bible that gave them power and not the other. The schism with Rome permitted Henry VIII to establish himself as the head of the church and divorce his wife, while the insistence of Rome that translation of the bible into English was heretical permitted speakers of Latin exclusive power over its interpretation. Many Protestants were made when they were able to read the bible for themselves and found, curiously, no mention within of the priests or churches which held such sway over their lives.

Commandments have a time-limit to them and eventually disappear into the tribe’s ancestral memory. You can always add more, though, and even use the same ones again, though to what end remains unclear. Thought bubbles above your tribespeople indicate their current obsessions, though these are just as ambiguous as your own statements. I think the vegetable women are prioritising the elderly because they have enough food for themselves. That’s nice. However, no one is having sex, despite multiple commandments that might encourage them to do so. Eventually, the entire tribe dies of old age, except for one enterprising spirit – the only one who seems to have heeded my multiple commandments about not living in a bloody desert. He has moved to the woodland, and founded a new village of one, where he resolutely fails to find any of the food that is in abundance there. Instead, he travels half the span of the continent to dig holes in the desert ground. I issue commands to ignore metal if you are starving and to prioritise food, but still he goes out – a young man, a lonely man, a very hungry man, tormented by, I can only presume, the legacy of my very first commandment. And soon he is a dead man, albeit one surrounded by a large amount of metal. My legacy as a god is finished.

The other creatures on this island have had a similarly torrid time, I note: the lions are all gone, and the gazelles have retreated to a small pocket of woodland on a distant prominentary. My people’s houses crumble and nothing is left of the civilisation that once stood there. Best thing for them, really, the idiots.

In fact, it’s hard to think of that many guileless misinterpretations of religious writ that have not resulted in one group or another seeking advantage. I welcome your suggestions in the comments. I’ve come up with just two, and, oddly, they both involve that most controversial of spiritual matters: beans.

Starvation in a desert is, however, preferable to what happens to the second tribe I attempt to chaperone to nirvana. They have a pretty good start, I would say, founding a village below a mountain, with a jungle fed by streams on one side and a savannah on the other, running down to the shore. Gazelles gambol and prance in the woodlands and my people have plenty of food. Naturally, I begin with a really very sensible set of commandments: if overfed, prioritise making babies. If overfed, find metal. If underfed, find food. This seems to cover the basics for population growth, population wealth and survival, I think. I throw in a cheeky one: if unhappy, be happy. Perhaps it is this deeply felt contradiction that eventually drives them all to the extremes of violent insanity they later endure.

Things go well to begin with, however, and new houses are erected around the village as the population swells. It does not distribute its food equally: some are starving while others prosper. I am not a god to suffer a wealth gap, so I throw in a few countermeasures in the hope that the overfed will pass on their excess to the underfed. At least, that’s what I hope I am saying.

Things tick along. Tribespeople die of old age and their houses instantly crumble – which is weird since I thought houses contained more than one person. In fact, the scale of the game’s abstraction is unclear in general, and what people are doing and why continues to be a great mystery to me, their god. There is a good deal of dancing down on the beach, even though I’ve never asked for this. Several of the dancers keel over and die, mid-jig, but generally people seem quite cheerful. Nonetheless, one guy ups sticks and leaves, never to return, insteading travelling the entire continent, circumventing the giant mountain range at its centre, to plant his tent in the middle of the desert on the very opposite side of the world.

What a madman, I think. But perhaps he just saw what was coming.

Jewish tradition at Passover forbids the consumption of leavened bread in deference to the ancestral flight from Egypt which occurred in such a hurry that, it is famously said, the bread was given no time to rise. However, there persists a controversy today about whether beans are also forbidden at this time, a confusion resulting from the very respected medieval Rabbi Joseph Caro’s reticence to distinguish pulses from grains (though there is some suggestion this was not mere error, but rather because he felt it was easy to confuse or mix the two and so it was better to play it safe). Whether such a flat ban on legumes and rice, alongside the other forbidden grains, should still exist today is a matter of some vibrant debate. Manufacturers of kosher laxative celebrate in the meantime.

It’s not clear exactly what triggers it. I try to put people to work, to curb some of the ridiculous dancing. If you’re happy, I say, get metal. Get food. And then if you have loads of food, “perform underfed”, by which I mean, feed the needy. And if you’re needy, “perform food”. What I don’t say, but what people then in fact do, is eat each other. They just saunter over to a neighbour’s house, pull out a baby and devour it. Cannibalism, in a very literal sense, eats my civilisation from within. Pretty soon there are only two houses left. Luckily, my commandments have expired, so I plug in a new one, designed to satiate their desire for flesh. If hungry perform gazelle. And so they do, the two remaining old ladies of the village, making the long trek to the woodland to where the remaining gazelle have migrated in the years since the original founding. They both spear a beast, but one lady collapses from starvation before she can get her haul back to the village. I’m not sure why she didn’t just eat it on route.

The other returns home but then promptly packs up her house, slings her belongings in a sack, and starts to walk. She heads back, past the gazelle, round the great mountain at the island’s centre, and toward the desert where a single elderly man mines metal and goes without meals. I wonder if she’s looking for one last snack. But, instead, she puts up a tent. Companionship in old age, perhaps. She goes on one final hunt but never makes it home. The old man dies, too, leaving the continent to the gazelle.

The 5th century BC philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras also vehemently discouraged his followers from eating or even touching beans. There’s even a story of him interceding to prevent a cow eating beans. The guy really hated beans! Though no clear reason was given by the man himself, it seems, later unreliable voices were keen to explain his antipathy, providing a litany of the bean’s remarkable sins. It’s because beans resemble genitals, say some. It’s because beans disrupt your concentration by causing you to fart. More recently, some have suggested that Pythagoras suffered from favism, a hereditary disease most prevalent in the Mediterranean, which would make him intolerant of a substance found in beans - to the point that its pollen alone could cause fever and, in extreme cases, death. There’s also the suggestion that Pythagoras believed fava beans were a conduit by which the souls of the dead were reincarnated. He may even have died because of his hatred of beans: one story (among several) says that he surrendered his life to assassins rather than flee through a bean field. Clearly, no one really understands Pythagoras’s prohibition on beans, and yet people were willing to deny themselves this food on his advice for some centuries to come. I’m not sure what the moral of this is. People will believe any old shit, it seems. But really, Pythagoras is the anomaly: what the vast majority of religious reinterpretation suggests is that, when given a choice, people tend to believe in what benefits them.

Crest’s ambition is a good and interesting one: to create a systemic god-game around manipulating an AI’s programmatic grammar, and it did give me two procedural stories I am glad to have had – albeit within parameters that I now feel I have largely explored. Did Crest say much about the evolution of religion, as is the game’s stated goal? I’m not sure. Certainly, as my settlers gnawed each other’s bones, I can admit things did not fall out as I had hoped: but any narrative of corrupted intentions is somewhat lost amid the general ambiguity of how those intentions are expressed in the first place. I don’t think it has much to say about or compare with religions which have annunciated very specific, clearly articulated dictums that are then deployed very selectively by the religion’s modern adherents to pursue the agenda of power or persecution. Crest offers too opaque a process to really see your agency at work, or even detect when it has been perverted. Sometimes, in fact, it feels like you aren’t even really there – which may be more of an excoriating statement about God than the game intends.

Crest is available from Steam for £4. I played the version with the Build ID 730414 on 13/08/2015. It’s planned to be in Early Access until December, with a number of additions to it over that time, including more symbols to allow for more commandments – though the implementation of these may be dependent on the funding they receive in the interim.


Top comments

  1. Geebs says:

    And to think, I woke up today not knowing that Zoroaster's jizz smelt of beans.
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    sicanshu says:

    It happens. link to

  2. Sam says:

    I bet there’s interesting stuff going on within the game in terms of how the people are understanding commands and selectively implementing them. But without a really clever way to show that to the player it’s doomed to feel random and empty. Like the kid thinking they’re playing an arcade machine but it’s still playing a recording and blinking “Insert Quarter.” Or like epiphenominalism in the mind-body problem, if you want to get fancy.

    Maybe the tribespeople are atheists and it ignores the player’s input entirely. With each new game from the same user the tribe automatically does slightly better so the player thinks they’re mastering the game.

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    Harlander says:

    Hmm, this seems interesting and novel, and as hard to do successfully as that interesting novelty suggests. Might still take a punt on it out of pure curiosity…

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    Andy_Panthro says:

    I like the idea far more than the execution. It all seems a bit clumsy, and without the appropriate level of feedback to see the effects of your commands.

  5. geldonyetich says:

    Reading this, I could not help thinking Spore phases 2-4 ought to have played like Crest: issue commandments, emergence happens.

  6. notenome says:

    Dear Mr. Davies,

    If I recall correctly, Pythagoras spent something like 18 years studying in Egypt. Maybe his aversion to beans came from there (though I’m not aware of any prohibition on beans by Egyptians)?

    In as far as ‘people believe in anything that benefits them’. No, categorically no. It’s very common for religions to include prohibitions, like the abominations of Leviticus, that constrain the daily activities of individuals in ways that may seem arbitrary and quite taxing. Leviticus in particular prohibits all sorts of animals that were found in abundance around the Levant at that time. This of course is just one example, there are many other famous dietary prohibitions (like for example, Hindu cows).

    But moving away from these relatively more well known religions, and into the religions of indigenous populations of the Americas and Africa, such a statement really doesn’t hold water. What is observed frequently in Amazonian populations (often called indigenous perspectivism) is this notion that the world is currently in a devolutionary state. Originally every being was a person (was physically human), but gradually the other species lost their capacity to have inter-subjective relations, losing their human form and becoming animals.

    Therefore great care is required, when dealing with both animals and each other. Care is required not to objectify animals, because they were once humans and can potentially become humans again, and care is required with people, because if you objectify a person you run the risk of yourself losing your human form and becoming an animal.

    This is just one small example of how religious beliefs, and this is very common, can actively restrict the ‘freedom of action’ of their followers, whilst simultaneously also placing them not at the ‘top’ of the universal hierarchy, but in equivalence. In fact, some religions, like the Apurinã, believe themselves to be, quite literally, ‘the worst’. When their progenitor Tsora, tested all the peoples of the world, the Apurinã systematically failed all his trials (they refused to drink blood, they refused to use firearms etc) and were fated to be forever stuck in the middle of the world, watching as others passed them by.

    • geldonyetich says:

      From the perspective of this being a computer game, I’d put greater care on the player getting feedback from the game that the commandment system, that is their sole means of interaction, actually works and isn’t just a buggy pile of incompetence foisted half-ass by the developers. This unfortunately mitigates the philosophical trappings of divine disobedience.

      • notenome says:

        Just to be clear here, I was responding to the alt-text, not Crest.

    • Marsh Davies says:

      Fascinating stuff about the Amazonian beliefs there! Cheer up, Apurinã, it might never happen. However, I was thinking specifically about acts of reinterpretation that emerge as a result of error or ambiguity in an earlier text or teaching. Then, I suggest, it’s more common for you to find people using this as an opportunity to benefit.

      • Yglorba says:

        I would argue that the Apurinã beliefs are basically a just-so story to explain why (despite being, obviously, the best people in the world) there are so few of them and they don’t rule everything. It’s comparable to the numerous stories in the Hebrew Bible about how the Jews became disobedient and were punished with exile — the writers of those texts were confronted with the problem of explaining how they are the chosen people of God, destined for greatness, while also dealing with a reality where they weren’t doing so great. Hence, everything got blamed on the mythological sins of past generations (which had the side-effect of establishing that everyone had to listen to the priestly caste, who were writing and repeating these stories!)

        • notenome says:

          Speaking from personal experience here, as I have lived with the Apurinã, I disagree. Ironically, they actually are by far the largest people in their river (Purus) in both population and territorial extension. But the Apurinã constantly berate and complain about themselves, very commonly saying something like ‘well you know, we Apurinã are the worst there is’. And often their attitude to their own language is very self-deprecating, for example feeling embarrassed to speak their language in front of others.

          This has led to some almost bizarre situations: a study concluded that only 15% of Apurinã still spoke their language. When we tried to verify this, what we discovered was that it wasn’t true, just most Apurinã preferred to not speak their language in front of outsiders, and when pressed would just say they didn’t know how.

          Not every population believes themselves to be ‘the best’ or ‘the chosen’. This was very common notion in the 1920s (called inherent ethnocentrism, if I recall correctly) but it hasn’t held up to closer scrutiny.

          • suhbleeya says:

            As someone who is currently sititng in RB, AC trying to start a project with the Apurinã, it is a bit surreal to read this on a videogame website.

            Also, you should publish your results.

          • notenome says:

            Holy Shit! It is a small world.

            Most of my time was spent with the Apurinã in Médio Purus, between Pauini and Lábrea. This is fortuitous because this regions contains the Seruini, which most Apurinã attribute to be the origin of their people (‘the-land-of-the-rock’, from which they emerged) its also where seu Amadeus lives, probably the oldest living pajé Apurinã, well over 100 years of age.

            As for publishing, well that’s a long ways off. Right now I’m focusing on aviamento, the system of debt slavery, that is still very frequent (I would argue normative) in the Médio Purus. At the end of the year I’ll probably return to the region and spend some 5 months, but that time go up to Tapauá where the Madihadeni, Paumari and Suruwaha are.

            As for trying to implement a project, I would argue strongly for you to go through the local indigenous organizations (don’t know anything about you so apologies if this roaringly obvious). I don’t know which organizations there are in RB, in the Médio Purus the two major ones are FOCIMP and OPIAJ.

          • Elusiv3Pastry says:

            This is why I love RPS.

    • Rumpelstilskin says:

      For what it’s worth, I read that Pythagoras thought that a bean could grow into a human if buried in a certain way, thus eating them was a form of cannibalism. Considering he was a vegetarian, dismissing a valuable source of plant proteins must have been for a good reason.

      • Rumpelstilskin says:

        More specifically:
        “And it is said that Zaratas forbade men to eat beans because he said that at the beginning and composition of all things when the earth was still a whole, the bean arose. And he says that the proof of this is that if one chews a bean to a pulp and exposes it to the sun for a certain time (for the sun will affect it quickly), it gives out the odour of human seed. And he says that there is another and clearer proof: if when a bean is in flower we were to take the bean and its flower, and putting it into a pitcher moisten it and then bury it in the earth, and after a few days dig it up again, we should see in the first place that it had the form of a womb, and examining it closely we should find the head of a child growing with it.”
        Sounds like a pretty good reason to avoid beans.

        • Geebs says:

          And to think, I woke up today not knowing that Zoroaster’s jizz smelt of beans.

          • Marsh Davies says:

            This is far and away my favourite thing to have ever been written under an article of mine.

  7. DompR says:

    Interesting tidbit about religious dietary restrictions: a very large portion of the swine population in the Middle-East is infected with Trichinella spiralis, a parasitic worm causing a quite debilitating, chronic illness in humans.
    It’s not hard to speculate that the religous prohibition of eating pork served as a pre-germ theory “public health guideline” to dissuade people from exposing themselves to it, while also giving the other, less substantiated rules in the books more weight.

    • notenome says:

      The interpretation of Hebrew dietary restrictions being based on practical/medicinal needs used to be theologically very common until about the 1960s. The problem is this interpretation can work for this species or that species, but there are dozens of different animals, more exactly animal types, that are prohibited.

      Later, two different anthropologists ended up analyzing the abominations of Leviticus and drew up 2 different explanations:

      -Leach argued that they were based on familiarity: Jews were forbidden from eating that which was too intimate (dogs) and too exotic (aligators), having to only eat animals that were somewhere in the middle.

      -Mary Douglas argued that the restrictions were based on consistency. For all things there was a proper, ideal type (all birds must fly, all fish must have scales, etc) and Hebrews, as God’s chosen people, should only eat those species which where perfect representatives of their type, avoiding ‘deviant’ species.

    • suhbleeya says:

      Alternatively to why Trichinella probably isn’t a likely cause of the taboo, is the fact that in other tropical areas where Trichinella is found, there were no such similar taboos on pigs, and also the fact that Trichinella takes awhile to set in, and it likely wouldn’t be very obvious that eating pig is what caused it.

      An explanation I was always partial to is that, while a taboo against pigs is mentioned indirectly in Leviticus, it wasn’t really as big of a deal as it today. When Antiochus IV Epiphanes became king of the Seleucid empire, he attempted to stamp out more traditional Jewish practices. Particularly, one of these acts was to force Jewish people to consume pork to show that they submitted to his rule. Because of this, avoiding pork became a much bigger part of Jewish identity, as it was a form of resistance against those trying to wipe out the faith.

  8. Drakedude says:

    M8, I can’t zoom into your alt-text, and they’re the reason i bother. Please provide a eye-friendly link

  9. Traipse says:

    Ditto; I can’t read the alt-text properly either. On Chrome on OS X, they get cut off partway through. Perhaps there’s some sort of maximum length for alt-text in some browsers?

    • Traipse says:

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about the alt-text. It’s my favourite part of your articles by far! It’s just that alt-text itself doesn’t seem to be a very effective or portable delivery mechanism for it.

      • Marsh Davies says:

        Hmm. I’m reticent for the alt-text to grow into something more than a weird in-joke for the RPS faithful, but I could see about pasting it into a text file and linking that as well in future.

        • notenome says:

          Please don’t change it, I love the ‘hidden’ article in every article! It’s like a bizarre written version of back-masking.

        • mike2R says:

          I think you might get more consistent results using the title attribute rather than alt – its the how image tooltips were intended to be done and I *think* browsers in general are better at displaying it in full and without it vanishing than the alt tag (though its been a while since I looked at it).

          • Llewyn says:

            Yes, because alt-text has a practical accessibility purpose, so using it inappropriately is something to ideally be avoided (especially on a site like RPS which aims to be reasonably accommodating to all readers).

          • Llewyn says:

            Meh, that doesn’t make sense as a direct reply. Think of it as an additional point rather than an assertion/contradiction.

            (I blame this comment entry form and its huge font, naturally)

        • RobotsForBreakfast says:

          For the record you can right click the pics and use Inspect Element to see the alt text in full (in Chrome, at least). Hope that’s helpful!

        • Winterborn says:

          There is a decent Firefox extension called POPup Alt Attribute that makes it more easily read. RPS was the reason I installed it many moons ago.

  10. magogjack says:

    I feel like Marsh is making it sound like religion wasn’t created for the purpose of control and that “re-interpreting” it for gain (for the individual or the group), is somehow counter to what it was meant to do in the first place. I would contend that religion always exists for this purpose.

    The way Religion is often at the center of both ancient and modern societies supports this (I feel).

    • Shazbut says:

      Religions have spirituality at their core, which is the study of depth. Ever since human beings have been on this planet, they’ve had the capacity to look deeply into their experience. Moving in this direction is unifying, not diversifying, and language, which is necessarily dualistic, is literally incapable of expressing what is being discovered in the normal way. As a result, peoples have created models and modes of expression and coined terms in order to attempt to point in this direction. They can all be thought of as essentially transparent, pointing to something deeper. If this is missed, as it almost always is, then these terms/words/expressions/assertions/behaviour/etc are taken at face value and subsequently interpreted as truths (by believers) or lies (by sceptics).

      So religions have to various degrees lost their way because of this, and they’ve also experienced the corruption that comes with any large collective. There can’t be billions of people all claiming to be under the same umbrella without some terrible things happening, especially because people truly approach these matters when they are felt to be of life/death importance, not from an armchair distance.

      Religions were not created to control, they had something authentic at the core. At least the ones I know of.

      • magogjack says:

        To be honest I don’t think we can say anything more then that religion exists and that it is used mostly for control. The want of it to be more then that also exists but that is all…

      • Yglorba says:

        We don’t really know enough about the origins of most religions to say, but the one religion of any significance whose origin we have been able to observe in the present day is Scientology, and, well.

        (Possibly you could also include Mormonism and, of course, while these things are open to interpretation and some people might believe it very strongly, the honest fact is that all the core revelations of the early Mormon faith served to establish and enhance the personal power of Joseph Smith.)

        Obviously there are people who believed, since manipulating those people was the whole point, but as an outsider I don’t think it’s particularly overly-cynical to say that the people at the core of them at least give the appearance of having whatever ‘revelations’ worked best for them.

        • Shazbut says:

          There are many spiritual teachers in the world, but to choose the two most obvious (to me), I don’t feel in my experience that Jesus or Buddha were trying to put something over on the people around them. I don’t think they had an agenda at all. In fact, I think that is partly why people were so attracted.

          My evidence for this comes from my own practice as well as my time spent with some people who I consider highly admirable on a personal level who attribute their state of being to a lineage that apparently traces back to the wisdom of these teachers.

          For all I know, Jesus or Buddha could literally be characters made up by a drunk author. It doesn’t matter. Spirituality matters. However, if all religious trappings were to be thrown out constantly so as not to get people to cling to dogma, there would be no conceptual framework at all and knowledge of spirituality would die out. It’s sort of no-win. People are always going to miss it or not want to know. But there will always be some who are suitably desperate.

          However, you’re right. The corruption knows no bounds. Part of the problem is that you have to be open – that is the entire point – and especially at the beginning of all this, one is ripe for manipulation. There’s really no changing this. If someone is very sincere though, I think it’s unlikely that they’ll get taken in by a charismatic charlatan.

          • malkav11 says:

            Thousands of sincere believers get fleeced by religious charlatans on a daily basis. See for example the most recent Last Week Tonight, where John Oliver takes on the phenomenon of televangelism.

      • Minglefingler says:

        I wouldn’t say that langauge is necessarily dualistic, it’s often used in a dualistic fashion but the fault lies with the speaker, not with the the medium. Also, ideas and symbols easily underststood at one time may be completely lost to future generations leaving a literal interpretation as the only one that makes sense to those not educated in the nuances of ancient culture. Old ideas can also be changed as part of a concious process. Bits of Old Testament was written or at least heavily reinterpreted by Jews in exile, they were describing centuries old events but with one eye on how they wanted their brethern to think and act politically. So these “deeper truths” were wilfully altered to suit the needs of the religious and and political leaders of the exiles. This lead to further difficulty when these Jews returned from exile and found that they had to reconcile their exegesis that that of those who had never left Palestine (I use the word here in its geographical sense only.)

      • aldo_14 says:

        Religions were not created to control, they had something authentic at the core. At least the ones I know of.

        I think that’s a bit of an absolutist statement that simply and literally can’t be proven true.

        It’s a nice thought that religions are somehow the outcome of self-organized spiritual processes rather than a small group of believers seeking ways to expand their influence and ultimately competing with each other… but I sincerely doubt the evidence, whether there or not, could be found to support that supposition.

        • Shazbut says:

          It’s a nice thought that religions are somehow the outcome of self-organized spiritual processes

          Hinduism, at least, is this. India has been a hotbed of people plunging into the mysteries of existence by themselves for thousands of years. Over time, as people were discovering the same things, a way of talking about this stuff developed, images and stories developed, and thus we now call it a religion.

          Regarding the rest, well…there is a fair amount of evidence to suggest this is how these things developed, but you’re right, it isn’t proveable. In a sense, it doesn’t matter unless you’re interested in theology. But if you want to get down to the deepest existential issues in life, you’d be doing yourself a disservice to write off all guidance from those who’ve tried that exact thing for the past few millenia.

        • Josh W says:

          To some extent the problem is definitional; are the various stories that tribes use to describe their world their religion? Is it just their taboos? Or is it those things that refer to other worlds or meditative practices.

          Because if you bundle up all social control and convention as religion, then by definition it is, but by that logic, so is capitalism, democracy, the rule of law etc. for us.

          When does an alternative worldview stop being someone’s general perspective and start being their religion?

      • Urthman says:

        How could religions be created for control if they didn’t have something that at least some people genuinely care about at their core? You can’t exploit a fear or desire for something that nobody fears or desires.

  11. Ashrand says:

    In terms of selecting only the bits you like Leviticus has to top it off. (yes being gay is a sin, yes planting a herb garden is an equal sin, so is polycotton, now shut up)

    But Lev. 19:19 is possibly the worst in terms of “we do it, but only sort of” in that it’s contributed to the massive soil erosion and destructive farming methods we have now that the non-abrahamic world apparently saw coming (first nations Americas most notably) and avoided right up until we killed most of them and took all their stuff. See also “of course turning lush rain-forest, first into grassland, then a dustbowl is a good idea! I mean what else could we need it for!?”.

    While crest might not be a good game, it’s a fine example of how creating hard and fast rules without a lawyer (and for gods sake a farmer) present will lead to the extinction of the people in question if you give them long enough to chew it over.

  12. Nixitur says:

    I think all the dancing and dying as a consequence of that was because of your “If unhappy, be happy.” commandment. After all, you’re asking them to basically produce happiness from nothing when they have nothing to be happy about and I’m gonna guess that dancing is a mechanic for precisely that. It takes time, but they get happier after a while which probably works fine if the people aren’t already on the brink of death.
    But if they’re starving, as many of your people were, they are profoundly unhappy and should really try and get some food. Instead, as you commanded, they do the only thing they know which instantly and immediately provides happiness: dancing. And then they starve to death.