According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Social Psychology and Terror Management Theory


Still Life with Skull by Philippe de Champagne (1602-1674). (Wikimedia Commons)

To Feel Meaningful Is to Feel Immortal
http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/2014/11/03/to-feel-meaningful-is-to-feel-immortal/

by Clay Routledge
November 3, 2014

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Imagine when our ancestors first started to look up at the stars and question their place in the universe. Why are we here? Are we alone? What happens to us when we die? It is difficult to know for sure at what point in time we became a species obsessed with existential questions. We can roughly date when humans first started to paint magical beings on cave walls or carefully and ornamentally bury the dead. But precisely when our ancestors started to truly behave like us is a matter of considerable debate. What we do know, however, is that at some point tens or maybe even a hundred or more thousand years ago, people started to look beyond the basic day-to-day concerns of the body to focus on matters of the soul.

A lot has changed since our species first began to contemplate such heavy issues. We can now send rockets into outer space, map the human genome and transmit information around the globe nearly instantaneously (we still need those flying cars we were promised though). And yet despite how technologically advanced our world has become, we are still burdened by the basic existential queries that early humans grappled with. We want to know our place in the universe. We strive to maintain the belief that we are living meaningful lives. And we cling to the hope that we are more than the sum of our biological parts, that we will make contributions to the world that transcend our mortality. In short, humans have long been and probably always will be existential animals – a species on a quest for enduring meaning.

Our existential lives have always fascinated philosophers and theologians. But now scientists are jumping into the fray, using empirical methods to ask questions that were once considered off limits to them. Specifically, empirical psychologists are exploring questions such as: Why do people seek meaning? What is it that makes life meaningful? And what are the mental and physical health consequences of finding (or not finding) meaning?

Why Does Meaning Matter?

My dog does not appear to be contemplating his purpose in life and he seems relatively well adjusted. Why then do humans desire to perceive their lives as meaningful?

One explanation that has received a significant amount of scientific attention relates to the human awareness of self and death. According to terror management theory, a prominent theory in social psychology, humans are like all other animals in that we strive to survive. Our bodies consist of systems that work to keep us alive. And as conscious beings, we deliberately engage in efforts to avoid death. We are motivated to live. However, unlike other animals, humans are intelligent enough to realize that death is certain. That is, we are uniquely aware of our mortal nature. We understand that despite our best efforts to stay alive, death is inevitable.

Terror management theory asserts that this juxtaposition of a desire to live and an awareness of death has the potential to cause a significant amount of anxiety or terror and that humans need to manage this terror in some way. We would not be a very productive species if we lived our lives in constant fear of death. Thus, according to the theory, people seek out a sense of enduring meaning that makes them feel more than mortal.

In other words, people know their lives are brief and so we endeavor to be part of something that transcends biological existence. This sense of death-transcendence can come from having children, creating works that will leave a lasting legacy, investing in a group or organization that outlasts the lives of any individual member, and so on. Of course, religion is a particularly powerful meaning-making tool as most religious beliefs explicitly afford humans a means of transcending death.

St. Jerome by Caravaggio (1573-1610). (Wikimedia Commons)

Research supports terror management theory. Specifically, studies find that when people are exposed to stimuli that remind them of their mortality, they exhibit increased investment in the social and cultural identities that provide meaning and perceptions of death-transcendence. For example, having people contemplate mortality increases their desire to have children, level of patriotism, religious faith and commitment to romantic partners. In short, heightening the awareness of death heightens efforts to find and preserve transcendent meaning.

Similarly, meaning mitigates the threat of death awareness. For example, studies show that having people think about death increases fear of death. However, this effect is only observed among those who do not perceive their lives as meaningful. People who have meaning are not as terrified about the fact that they are mortal.

There may actually be a number of reasons that people need meaning. However, alarge body of research demonstrates that the realization that life is finite is a potent driving force for people’s efforts to feel that their lives are purposeful and meaningful. People want to be more than mere mortal beings who die and disappear forever. To feel meaningful is to feel like you made a lasting mark, a contribution that will endure beyond your death. To feel meaningful is to feel immortal.

And there are many practical benefits to existential security as studies have identified a number of ways that meaning contributes to mental and physical health. Consider the following examples.

Meaning Helps People Cope with Life Challenges: Becoming ill or having to face a major life challenge such as job loss or the death of a loved one is difficult for everyone. However, research indicates that people who report having a strong sense of meaning in life are better able to cope with these mentally and physically taxing experiences. Meaning can give people the inner strength they need to overcome many of life’s hurdles. Meaning motivates. It makes people want to productively move forward in life.

Meaning Reduces the Risk of Mental Illness: Many studies indicate that people who believe their lives are full of meaning and purpose are less likely to suffer from mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety disorders and less inclined to engage in problematic behavior such as excessive drinking. And studies show that when people do struggle from mental illness, finding meaning can improve the effectiveness of therapeutic interventions. Meaning not only helps people cope with difficulties in life, it also promotes psychological health.

Meaning Contributes to Successful Aging: A number of studies have established a strong link between meaning in life and quality of life among older adults. Older adults who perceive their lives as meaningful are physically and mentally healthier than those who perceive their lives as having little or no meaning. Meaning in life is also associated with decreased fear of death among older adults.

Meaning Reduces the Risk of Mortality: Emerging research further highlights the importance of meaning by revealing that people who report having a strong sense of purpose in life live longer. In fact, across all adult age groups, purpose is associated with mortality. Even among young adults, the greater your sense of purpose, the less likely you are to die.

A Growing Field

This is just a small sample of the ever-growing scientific literature on the psychology of meaning. Historically, existential psychology was considered a topic that “serious” empirical psychologists should avoid. It was too warm and fuzzy. This view was prominent, in part, because the field of psychology was desperately striving to earn its place as a legitimate science and shed its lay reputation as a discipline more about interpreting dreams and decrypting the hidden meaning of people’s thoughts than systematic scientific research and empirically-derived therapeutic interventions. But as the field continues to evolve and thrive as a science-based enterprise, researchers are beginning to feel more comfortable using the tools of science to explore fundamental questions about our existential nature. Humans are meaning-making animals and scientists are just now beginning to fully understand just how important the meaning motive is for adaptive functioning.


About the Author: Dr. Clay Routledge is a social psychologist and associate professor of Psychology at North Dakota State University. His research focuses on how the need to perceive life as meaningful impacts mental and physical health, close relationships, and intergroup relations. He is a leading expert in the area of experimental existential psychology. He regularly publishes his work in the top psychology journals, recently co-edited a book on the scientific study of meaning in life, and is currently writing a book on the psychology of nostalgia. His work has been featured by The New York Times, The New Yorker, NPR, BBC, CNN, CBC, ABC News, Men's Health, Women's Health and Cosmopolitan. He also regularly serves as an expert guest on national and international radio programs.




BAS - Asherah and the Asherim: Goddess or Cult Symbol?


A modern depiction of "Lady Asherah of the Sea"

Stele of Qadesh | upper frame2


Asherah and the Asherim: Goddess or Cult Symbol?
http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/ancient-israel/asherah-and-the-asherim-goddess-or-cult-symbol/

November 4, 2014
Exploring the Biblical and archaeological evidence


This four-tiered cult stand found at Tanaach is thought to represent Yahweh and Asherah, with each deity being depicted on alternating tiers. Note that on tier two, which is dedicated to Asherah, is the image of a living tree, often thought to be how the asherim as a cult symbol was expressed. Photo: © The Israel Museum, Jerusalem/Israel Antiquities Authority (photograph by Avraham Hay).

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Who is Asherah? Or perhaps, what is asherah?1 The Hebrew means “happy” or “upright” and some suggest “(sacred) place.” The term appears 40 times in the Hebrew Bible, usually in conjunction with the definite article “the.” The definite article in Hebrew is similar to English in that personal names do not take an article. For example, I am Ellen, not the Ellen. Thus it is clear that when the definite article is present that it is not a personal name, but this does not eliminate the possibility of it being a category of being (i.e., a type of goddess). There are only eight cases where the term appears without an article or a suffix—suffixes in Hebrew can be used to express possession, e.g., “his,” “their,” etc. Interestingly, the plural of the term, asherim, occurs in both masculine and feminine forms.

This diversity of grammar leads to the two questions at the beginning of this article: Who is Asherah? What is asherah? The reference may be to a particular goddess, a class of goddess or a cult symbol used to represent the goddess. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish what meaning is intended (cf. Judges 3:7).

This goddess is known from several other Ancient Near Eastern cultures.2 Sometimes she is known as “Lady Asherah of the Sea” but could be taken as “She who walks on the sea.” As Athirat, a cognate name for Asherah, she is mother of 70 children (this relates to the Jewish idea of the 70 guardian angels of the nations). Arguments have been made that Asherah is a figure in Egyptian, Hittite, Philistine and Arabic texts. Egyptian representations of “Qudshu” (potentially the Egyptian name for Asherah) show her naked with snakes and flowers, sometimes standing on a lion. Whether this should be interpreted as Asherah is contested and thus should be viewed with caution. Another suggestion is Asherah is also the Hittite goddess Asertu, who is married to Elkunirsa, the storm god (she is often viewed in connection with the regional storm god).

As Athirat in Arabian inscriptions there is a possibility that she is seen as a sun goddess (this is perhaps a connection in Ugaritic literature as well). In Phoenician, she is the mother goddess, which is different from Astarte, the fertility goddess; there is some debate regarding a confusion of the two relating to 1 Kings 18:19. In Akkadian, she might be Asratum, the consort of Amurru (chief deity of early Babylon). The connection is made because the Akkadian kingship (early 14th century B.C.E.) takes the title “servant of Asherah.”

The Ugaritic texts provide the most insight into the goddess. Ras Shamra (located on the Syrian coast) texts, discovered in 1929, portray her as Athirat, the wife of El. Their sexual encounter produces dusk (Shalim) and dawn (Shahar), among others. Her relationship with Baal is complicated, and it is suggested that Baal has killed large numbers of her children.3 In these texts, she intercedes with El to get Baal a palace, after Anat’s (his “sister” and her “daughter”) request is refused. She supplies a son to reign after Baal descends into the netherworld. The relationship is further complicated by debates as to whether she is the mother of Baal or his consort or both. The idea of her being a consort comes from later Phoenician sources, where scholars have associated Asherah with Tinnit. Yet, the connections are tentative, and many scholars question the association. A hypothesis also suggests that Baal usurped El’s position and also took his consort, Asherah, which would make the relationship very oedipal.

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This inscription found on a pithos at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud (similar to an inscription found at Khirbet el-Qom) refers to “Yahweh and his Asherah.” This has led some scholars to believe that in popular religion Asherah was understood to be the wife of Yahweh, much the same as she under her cognate Athirat was considered to be the wife of El. Photo: Courtesy Dr. Ze’ev Meshel and Avraham Hai/Tel Aviv University Institute of Archaeology. Asherah or asherim refer to more than just the person of the deity. These terms are often, especially in the Biblical texts, used for consecrated poles. These poles represent living trees, with which the goddess is associated. Some scholars believe that asherim were not poles, but living trees (like the one depicted on the Tanaach Cult Stand). The poles were either carved to look like trees or to resemble the goddess (this could also be reflected in the numerous pillar figurines found throughout Israel). Remains of these poles are determined by postholes and rotted timber, which resulted in differently hued soil. There is great debate as to whether the cult symbol lost its ties to Asherah (and became a religious symbol on its own without the worshippers knowing anything about the goddess who originated it) or is seen as a representation of Asherah herself (similar to the way the cross is a representation of Jesus to Christians).

Jar A drawing. Kuntillet 'Ajrud, Israel. Early 8th century BCE
S. Beaulieu, after Keel and Uelinger 1998: 213, figure 220. | source link here


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The relationship between Asherah and Israel is a complicated one.4 Does the text refer to the goddess or her symbol?5 Jeroboam and Rehoboam fostered Asherah worship (1 Kings 14:15, 23). Worship of Asherah was highly encouraged by Jezebel, with the presence of 400 prophets who held a place in the court of her husband King Ahab (1 Kings 18:19). Worship of Asherah is given as a reason for deportation (2 Kings 17:10,16). Attempts to eradicate the worship were made by Asa, Josiah, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah and Gideon (Exodus 34:13-14; Deuteronomy 7:5; Judges 6:25-30; 1 Kings 15:13/2 Chronicles 15:16; 2 Kings 23:4,7/2 Chronicles 34:3,7; 2 Kings 21:7/2 Chronicles 33:3,19; 2 Chronicles 19:3; 2 Kings 18:4). However, devotion to the cult symbol remained (Isaiah 27:9; Jeremiah 17:1; Micah 5:14). It is particularly interesting that objections to Asherah are found mostly in Deuteronomistic literature, rather than in the prophets. In both cases, the authors are much more concerned about the worship of Baal rather than Asherah.

This apparent lack of concern might be due to a popular connection between Yahweh and his Asherah. Inscriptions from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud (on a pithos; see image above) and Khirbet el-Qom (on walls) contain the phrase “Yahweh and his Asherah.”6 Some take this to mean it was believed that she was seen as the wife of Yahweh and represents the goddess herself. Yet, the presence of the suffix could suggest that it is not a personal name. This has led others to believe it is a reference to the cult symbol. A more obscure opinion claims it means a cella or chapel; this meaning is found in other Semitic languages, but not Hebrew. Because of the similarities between El and Yahweh, it is understandable that Asherah could have been linked to Yahweh. While some readers might find the idea that Yahweh had a wife disturbing, it was common in the ancient world to believe that gods married and even bore children. This popular connection between Yahweh and Asherah, and the eventual purging of Asherah from the Israelite cult, is likely a reflection of the emergence of monotheism from the Israelites’ previous polytheistic worldview.

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Ellen White, Ph.D. (Hebrew Bible, University of St. Michael’s College), is the senior editor at the Biblical Archaeology Society. She has taught at five universities across the U.S. and Canada and spent research leaves in Germany and Romania. She has also been actively involved in digs at various sites in Israel.







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Notes:

1. One of the most influential studies on Asherah is Saul M. Olyan, Asherah and the Cult of Yahweh in Israel, Society of Biblical Literature Monograph Series (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988). Olyan’s study provides background for this piece.

2. For a detailed study of Asherah outside of the Biblical texts, see Walter A. Maier, Asherah: Extrabiblical Evidence, Harvard Semitic Monographs (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986).

3. Olyan, Asherah, pp. 38–61.

4. For one of the best treatment of Asherah and Israel, see Judith M. Hadley, The Cult of Asherah in Ancient Israel and Judah: Evidence for a Hebrew Goddess, University of Cambridge Oriental Publications (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

5. For a really good analysis of the Biblical passages involving Asherah, see C. Frevel, Aschera und der Ausschliesslichkeitsanspruch YHWHs, Bonner biblische Beitrage (Weinheim: Belz Athenaum Verlag, 1995).

6. For more details, see William Dever, Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), pp. 176–251.


Visit the BAS Library for more on Asherah:

As the point where three of the world’s major religions converge, Israel’s history is one of the richest and most complex in the world. Sift through the archaeology and history of this ancient land in the free eBook Israel: An Archaeological Journey, and get a view of these significant Biblical sites through an archaeologist’s lens.

Shmuel Ahituv, “Did God Have a Wife?” Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2006.

Ephraim Stern, “Pagan Yahwism: The Folk Religion of Ancient Israel,” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2001.

William G. Dever, “Folk Religion in Early Israel: Did Yahweh Have a Consort?” in Hershel Shanks and Jack Meinhardt, eds., Aspects of Monotheism (Washington, DC: Biblical Archaeology Society, 1996), pp. 27–56, 127–129.

J. Glen Taylor, “Was Yahweh Worshiped as the Sun?” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 1994.

Ruth Hestrin, “Understanding Asherah—Exploring Semitic Iconography,” Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 1991.

André Lemaire, “Who or What Was Yahweh’s Asherah?” Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 1984.

Ze’ev Meshel, “Did Yahweh Have a Consort?” Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 1979.