Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Mythology of the Mayas

The other day my wife and our family went to visit the Witte Museum in downtown San Antonio. We spent about an hour or so touring an exhibit in the museum called “The Mayas.” As the title would indicate, this exhibit has to do with the Mayan civilization that dominated great portions of Mexico and Central America during the pre-Columbine era. Although not a very extensive exhibit, it did contain the highlights of a civilization which spanned over two millennia and which left an indelible imprint on the culture and the society of the Americas. It was not until the Spanish invaded the New World, that the Mayan civilization began to wane and, eventually, disappear. Although there are still many people who claim their ancestry from this once proud civilization, the empire was quickly devastated and eventually absorbed by the unstoppable wheel of progress.

There are certainly a great many things that can be admired about the Maya civilization. They were centuries ahead of their time in their knowledge of astronomy and the mathematical sciences. Who hasn’t heard about the Mayan calendar? I myself have one hanging on my wall, a souvenir from a trip to Mexico a few years back. And I’m sure that just about everyone reading this will remember that just a short three and a half years ago, there were those who were sure that the world was going to end in December of 2012 because that is when the Mayan calendar supposedly ended (the very forgettable movie, 2012, was made exploiting that idea). As it should be obvious to you by now, the world didn’t end and we’re still here toiling away.
But for all of its scientific and mathematical prowess, I couldn’t help but think about the Mayan culture and the fact that it was not any different than the cultures in existence at the same time in other parts of the world. Take for example the Canaanites in the land which today is referred to as Palestine. The Bible tells us that this was a cruel and sinful people who engaged in practices that were unmentionable, all in the pursuit of the worship of their gods. Just to name a couple, they sacrificed their children to the god Moloch in hopes of securing for themselves a better life, usually related to their crops and the life of their plantings. They engaged in all sorts of perversions, sexual and otherwise, often associated with the worship of their gods. It is obvious that they had so suppressed the knowledge of God, that their animalistic tendencies were given free rein.

Compare that to the Mayas and the other indigenous cultures of the Americas. One of the things that the exhibit I mentioned at the outset made clear, is the fact that the Mayas too sacrificed humans to their gods, including their children. The evidence for such actions is quite clear and cannot be refuted. In addition, just as with the Greek and Roman mythologies of the ancient world, the Mayas believed in the death and resurrection of their god; an activity that was tied to the life cycle of their crops. In other words, as with the mythological tales of the Greco Roman world, the Maya gods, primarily their Maize god, died at the end of the harvest, only to come back to life when the crop was once again planted in the spring. This mythology has often been used by unbelievers to try and claim that Christianity simply borrowed from the mystery religions the idea of a dying and raising god. I trust that the careful reader will see how completely divorced from reality this idea is (for further reading, check out a previous blog article on Christianity and the Greeks on this blog).
All this is to say that human nature, whether technologically advanced or not, is the same all over the world. Human depravity and the effects that sin has on the individual cannot be denied. Although many today practically worship anything that has to do with indigenous culture, especially their worship of nature—today called “environmentalism”—the sad reality is that those cultures were as depraved and sinful as our own. They were no more innocent than the society that we live in today. In one respect, however, we are even more depraved than they were. The amount of knowledge of God that our society has is unparalleled in history. Today’s technological advances have made it possible for all but the most remote places to hear the gospel of Christ. Missionaries are sent to every corner of the globe, and TV, radio and the internet have reached nearly every single individual on the face of the earth. And yet, sin and depravity persist. Why? Because, as Paul so eloquently put it in Romans chapter three, there is no one who seeks God. The heart of man is bent to do evil all the time. Whether in the pristine jungles of the Mayan world, or in the concrete jungles of our current society.

The sad reality is that the world has always been lost and in need of a savior. No culture has escaped the insidious reach that sin has over the heart of man. Whether the Mayas, the Conquistadors or the aborigines of today, the world is incapable of reaching God on its own merits. Regardless of how “good” a life we may live, we are unable to gain the favor of a holy God. It is only because that holy God provided a way to reach out to him that we are able to do so. Were it not for Christ, we would be hopeless in our depravity and sin.  Only because the Son of God offered himself as a sacrifice, can we have living hope and life eternal. And that is something that no exalted civilization, regardless of how wonderful the world thinks it is, can offer!



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